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Man shoots seven, kills self on tourist deck of Empire State Building

February 24, 1997

NEW YORK (AP) _ A Palestinian man fired into a crowd of tourists on the observation deck of the Empire State Building Sunday, killing one person and wounding six others before fatally shooting himself in the head.

Ali Abu Kamal, 69, died without regaining consciousness, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s press office said. His passport said he was from Ramallah, on Israel’s west bank, and entered the United States on Christmas Eve, Giuliani said.

Witnesses said dozens of people _ many of them foreign tourists _ fled in panic toward stairways and elevators as the man sprayed bullets on the outdoor deck that surrounds a large, windowed room on the 86th floor.

``I’ve never seen so much blood in my life,″ said Belgian businessman Stef Nys, who said he saw the man shoot himself and fall, his dentures popping loose. ``The most scary part was when people started to panic.″

The man muttered something about Egypt seconds before he began shooting at about 5 p.m. on the 86th floor observation deck of one of the world’s best-known tourist sites, witnesses said.

Police weren’t sure of the significance of his remarks about Egypt. A city police terrorist task force and FBI agents were investigating, Giuliani said. Police Commissioner Howard Safir said the shooter apparently acted alone.

The other dead man was a 27-year-old Danish musician visiting the Empire State Building with an American friend from Connecticut, who was also wounded, Giuliani said.

The others wounded included a French couple from Verdum, whose 16-year-old daughter escaped injury; a 30-year-old Swiss man; an Argentinian man, 52; and a man from the Bronx. One of the wounded men was shot in the head, while others were less seriously hurt.

Two children were hurt when they were knocked from parents’ arms and four women suffered minor injuries in the rush to the exit.

``I’d been out there about one minute when I heard what I thought to be firecrackers,″ said David Robinson, a tourist from England. ``Then everyone started panicking.″

A French family, Jean-Luec Will, 40, his wife, Catherine, and two sons, 10 and 13, said they had just arrived at the Empire State Building on the second day of a trip to New York.

``I heard a loud popping noise,″ Will said. ``I thought at first it was little child playing with fireworks. There was one shot, then two or three seconds passed then three shots, pop, pop, pop.″

Gerard Guntner, 43, of Jersey City, N.J., said he tried to help a man with a bullet wound in the head on the deck by cradling his head in towels.

``He was bleeding profusely. He was coughing blood. I took the towels and wrapped them around his head. I just said, `Hang in there.‴ Guntner said. ``I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.″

Empire State Building spokesman Howard Rubenstein said security cameras filmed the gunman riding an escalator to the elevator entrance after he bought a ticket in the ground floor lobby.

``He had a long coat and the gun was under his coat. You couldn’t see it,″ Rubenstein said. The tape was turned over to police.

The Empire State Building is one of the most loved and admired tall buildings in the world. The 102-story skyscraper opened May 1, 1931 and reigned for decades as the world’s tallest until 1972, when it was overtaken by the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

The graceful tower in midtown Manhattan remains one of the best-known symbols of New York and is especially popular with the thousands of foreign tourists visiting the city each year.

Standing 1,250 feet _ 1,472 feet with its spire _ the building has been the site for hundreds of scenes in movies like ``King Kong,″ ``An Affair to Remember″ and ``Sleepless in Seattle.″ It also is noted for the lighting that bathes its granite sides in various colors to commemorate the seasons, holidays or special events. On Sunday, the lighting was all-white.

Visitors buy a ticket in the lobby and ride elevators to the 86th floor deck. They are not routinely subjected to metal detectors or searches of personal belongings.

Skies were clear, visibility from the deck was about 10 miles and temperatures were in the 40s on a Sunday afternoon that would normally attract hundreds of tourists.

Leona Helmsley, whose real estate company manages the Empire State Building, said the firm would pay for families of victims to be flown to New York.

``We will do everything possible to lighten their burden during this terrible time,″ Helmsley said through Rubenstein.

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