Gunman kills 13, self

Many of the victims at N.Y. immigrant services center studying to become citizens

April 04, 2009|By Geraldine Baum and Anna Gorman | Geraldine Baum and Anna Gorman,Tribune Newspapers

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -For immigrants in this Rust Belt city, the doorway to America leads through the friendly building on Front Street. But on Friday, the American Civic Association - a place crowded with recent arrivals taking English classes and citizenship exams - became a killing zone.

A gunman barricaded the back door of the immigration services center with a car, preventing escape, then entered through the front door. Opening fire, he killed 13 people and seriously wounded four others before apparently committing suicide.

Binghamton Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said the gunman gave no warning. "I don't think there was any conversation," he said.

As he entered the building about 10:30 a.m., the gunman killed one receptionist and shot another in the stomach. She pretended to be dead, hiding under a table and waiting for a chance to call 911 while the gunman moved down the hallway and sought out more victims in a nearby room. There, he opened fire on a group taking a citizenship class.

At the end of the incident, police found a body believed to be the gunman's, along with two handguns, body armor and ammunition. He apparently died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

"We have no idea what the motive is," Zikuski said, but he added that the shooter was "no stranger to the civic association." A law enforcement source told the Associated Press that the gunman had an identification card that gave his name as Jiverly Voong, 42.

Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan, who described Friday as "the most tragic day in Binghamton history," said Voong reportedly had been laid off from his job at IBM nearby.

A Binghamton city spokesman said that a man named Jiverly Wong might have been the gunman, but that could not be confirmed. A person at IBM said that Jiverly Wong was not an IBM employee.

During the shooting, 26 people sought refuge in a boiler room. Afterward, a SWAT team removed 37 people from the building, four of them critically injured. Many were immigrants who spoke little or no English.

Binghamton is a town of some 46,000 people about 140 miles northwest of Manhattan. Ryan described it as "a very proud city," with 30 languages spoken at local schools and a long history of welcoming immigrants - from Europe in the past and from Asia recently.

The city's main street features old, four-story brick buildings in the classic style of the industrial Northeast, with a sprinkling of ethnic restaurants and food markets and a memorial promenade dedicated to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The Binghamton area is the birthplace of IBM, which has suffered job cuts in recent years.

The American Civic Association, the mayor said, has been "a mainstay of our community." The group assists immigrants and refugees with resettlement, citizenship, family reunification, interpreters and translators. Many of its clients fled war and conflict in other countries and are working to build new lives in the U.S., according to the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants.

Every pew was filled Friday evening at a candlelight vigil for the victims at Redeemer Lutheran Church.

In attendance was Greg Jenkins, a disaster coordinator for the Broome County Council of Churches, who said the area had a long history of welcoming immigrants. "They were trying to do it the right way, becoming American citizens," he said of the victims, shaking his head as he gripped a candle.

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