Five Killed By Gunman In Shoe Store
NEW YORK (AP) _ A heavy snow was falling and Christmas lights glittered outside as the young man walked into a shoe store and asked for a pair of Nikes.
A handful of customers were browsing in the cramped store as a clerk told him they were out of stock.
That’s when, police say, 22-year-old Michael Vernon suddenly pulled out a 9 mm pistol and fired at the heads of anyone in sight.
Five people were killed, including a woman and her 12- and 13-year-old sons. One of the boys died with a shoe off as he prepared to try on sneakers.
Three others were critically wounded inside Little Chester Shoes in the Bronx, and Vernon himself was critically wounded during a shootout with police as he fled.
Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called Tuesday’s shooting a ``horrendous start to the holiday season. ... Some of these people were Christmas shopping.″
Vernon’s brother, Christopher Simmons, said Vernon was an outpatient at a psychiatric clinic, on medication for mental disorders and a violent man.
``My mother was thinking maybe this would happen,″ Simmons told the New York Post. ``I’m sorry for the people who got killed. He has a psychiatric problem. He’s schizophrenic.″
Police said Vernon, who has previously been arrested for assault, had intended to rob the store, only feigning interest in the brown Nike hiking boots.
Deputy Chief Charles Kammerdener said Vernon had been in the store previously ``casing the place, on the ruse of looking for a certain kind of sneaker.″
``You should have given me those sneakers,″ the gunman said as he opened fire, an investigator told The New York Times.
Kammerdener said the dead included Kwong Bae, 41, the wife of the store owner. It was the couple’s second anniversary. Also killed were 38-year-old shopper Maria Carrasquillo and her sons, Rafael Gonzalez, 12, and Ricardo Gonzalez, 13. The fifth victim, a 27-year-old man, was not immediately identified.
Vernon underwent surgery and was in critical but stable condition early today. The three injured people were in critical condition.
It was the city’s second deadly store attack in two weeks. On Dec. 8, a gunman angered by a racially charged eviction dispute opened fire in Freddy’s Fashion Mart on 125th Street in Harlem, then set fire to the store. Seven people and the gunman died in the blaze.
Both incidents came at the end of a year that saw a marked drop in the city’s crime rate, including murders.
Only two people in the store at the time escaped unharmed _ the owner, who was doing inventory in the back room, and a friend of his wife who fled the store and alerted police.
Police Chief of Patrol Louis Anemone called the incident ``a robbery gone awry.″ But Commissioner William Bratton said police weren’t sure money was taken.
``It’s terrible,″ said Chris Calagna, 33, a Bronx bank teller who was shopping several doors away when the shooting started. ``Somebody was working hard, trying to make a living. It’s sad when somebody’s life is snuffed out right before the holidays.″
Standing outside the 49th Precinct station house in a snowstorm Tuesday evening, store owner Choon Bae’s eyes welled with tears. After a long pause, he said, ``I’d like peace.″