Investigators were trying today to find out why a gunman killed 13 people at an immigration centre before apparently shooting himself.
The killer – believed to be a Vietnamese immigrant – barricaded the back door of the building in New York state yesterday before opening fire on a room full of immigrants taking a citizenship class.
Many more were wounded after the rampage at the American Civic Association centre in Binghamton, about 150 miles north west of New York City, at about 10.30am local time (3.30pm Irish Time).
The suspect was carrying identification with the name of 42-year-old Jiverly Voong of nearby Johnson City, a law enforcement official said, but the name was believed to be an alias.
Detectives said they had yet to establish a reason for the massacre, but according to Congressman Maurice Hinchey, whose congressional district includes Binghamton, the gunman had recently been let go from IBM. IBM was not immediately confirm the claim.
New York governor David Paterson said it was a “tragic day for New York” while President Barack Obama – speaking from Baden-Baden in Germany – condemned the “senseless act of violence”.
Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said the gunman parked his car against the back door “making sure nobody could escape”, then stormed through the front, shooting two receptionists apparently without a word.
The killer then entered a room just off the reception area and fired on a citizenship class.
“The people were trying to better themselves, trying to become citizens,” the police chief said.
One receptionist was killed, while the other, who was shot in the stomach, pretended to be dead, then crawled under a desk and called authorities, he said. The rest of those killed were shot in the classroom.
The man believed to have carried out the attack was found dead with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in an office, a satchel containing ammunition slung around his neck, authorities said.
Police found two handguns – a 9mm and a .45-calibre – as well as a hunting knife.
Thirty-seven people in all were rescued from the building, included 26 who hid in the boiler room in the basement, cowering there for three hours while police searched the building and tried to determine whether the gunman was still alive and whether he was holding any hostages.
Binghamton’s mayor, Matt Ryan said officials were “working feverishly” to identify all the victims and asked media for “respect” as that process took place.
He said that many were not originally from America.
Mr Ryan added: “I want to thank all the agencies that responded. This is a community that comes together in a crisis and that is already happening.”
Mr Paterson said the shooting was “probably the worst crime and tragedy in the history of this city”, adding: “When are we going to be able to curb the violence that is so fraught and so rapid that we cannot even keep track of the incidents any more?”
The gunman was described as in his 20s, between 5ft 8in and 6ft, wearing a bright green nylon jacket and dark-rimmed glasses, according to reports.
The American Civic Association describes itself as helping immigrants and refugees with counselling, resettlement, citizenship, family reunification and translators.
It also intervenes with emergencies, including fighting, hunger and homelessness, according to information from the association’s website.