NEW YORK — A Christmas choral concert in New York City ended in horror as police fatally shot a man who had opened fire with semiautomatic handguns on the steps of a noted Manhattan cathedral Sunday.
The gunshots rang out Sunday afternoon at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York, and concert goers were sent fleeing and taking cover in the Morningside Heights neighborhood.
A police officer and detective were already at the church when the shots rang out and responded immediately, and another police sergeant at a nearby hospital responded as well, said New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea. The officers fired 15 shots at the man, Shea said.
“It is by the grace of God today” that no bystanders were shot, Shea added.
Shea said authorities recovered two guns and bag that contained a can of gasoline, rope, knives, a bible and tape. While police did not immediately release the man’s name, Shea said he had a lengthy criminal history.
Witnesses told police that the man shouted “kill me” as he shot. Police did not say whether the man was aiming at the bystanders, but the church on Facebook said that the gunman fired “into the air from our front steps.”
“It is horrible that our choir’s gift to New York City, a much-needed afternoon of song and unity, was cut short by this shocking act of violence,” the church added in the Facebook post.
Photos showed the gunman donning a white hat and face mask as he held two handguns. He fired from behind a marble pillar at the front of the church as concert goers sought cover behind a lamp post and at the bottom of the steps. Shea said the man was fatally shot in the head.
The 45-minute concert took place on the church’s steps, with people standing apart and masked due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was just beautiful, and then at the end this person started shooting. Everybody is in shock,” a cathedral spokeswoman, Lisa Schubert, told The New York Times. “The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here and he shot at least 20 times.”
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The famed Cathedral has hosted memorial services for puppeteer Jim Henson and choreographer Alvin Ailey, and speakers including Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu have been featured over the years. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was also a trustee. Construction began on the building in 1892 and remains incomplete.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: New York City cathedral Christmas concert ends with ‘shocking’ gunfire