A man was shot and killed by police after he opened fire outside the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights following a Christmas concert Sunday afternoon, according to officials.
Hundreds were gathered outside the church when the gun shots began. No bystanders were injured during the shooting, officials said.
Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the district in which the shooting took place, said the man appeared to be mentally ill and began shooting his weapon indiscriminately into the air minutes after the concert concluded at about 4 p.m.
“He was yelling that he wanted to be killed. Police arrived quickly,” Levine said on Twitter.
In a photo published by Reuters, the suspect - identified on Monday as Luis Vasquez, 52, of the Bronx - was wearing a face covering, a white hat, black sweatshirt and carrying a red backpack. He appeared to be holding a gun in each hand.
Vasquez directed his gunfire at police when they arrived on the scene, and officers returned fire. He was subsequently shot and taken to St. Luke’s Hospital, according to ABC 7 New York.
“Painful reminder of the challenges we face in dealing with mental health and easy gun access in our city,” Levine said of the incident.
Police later confirmed these details in a press conference.
“It is by the grace of God today that we don’t have anyone struck,” said NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea.
Lengthy Criminal History
Two semi-automatic guns were recovered from the scene, as well as a nearby bag police believe belonged to the suspect. The bag contained a full container of gasoline, rope, wire, multiple knives and a Bible.
Police did not initially release a name, but Shea told reporters the police had a tentative identification of who the shooter was and that this individual had a lengthy criminal history. The Daily News reported that Vasquez had six arrests on his record, including one for attempted murder in 1990.
Though overall crime is down compared to 2019 in the 26th precinct, which covers Morningside Heights, shootings have greatly increased. There have been 12 shooting incidents this year compared to just two at this point last year, according to the most recent police statistics. These numbers are consistent with the uptick in shootings across the city this year.
“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,” read a statement that Cathedral of St. John the Divine put out on Twitter. “We will remain strong, together, and serve as a safe space for prayer, meditation and celebration during the upcoming holiday season.”
Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said both her chief of staff and press secretary were at the concert when the shooting began, but they remained safe.
“Our gratitude goes out to first responders,” said Brewer.
This story has been updated.
“Painful reminder of the challenges we face in dealing with mental health and easy gun access in our city.” Council Member Mark Levine