Robert D. McFadden. “13 Shot Dead During a Class on Citizenship.” New York Times. April 4, 2009.
A gunman invaded an immigration services center in downtown Binghamton, N.Y., during citizenship classes on Friday and shot 13 people to death and critically wounded 4 others before killing himself in a paroxysm of violence that turned a quiet civic setting into scenes of carnage and chaos.
The killing began around 10:30 a.m. and was over in minutes, witnesses said, but the ordeal lasted up to three hours for those trapped inside the American Civic Association as heavily armed police officers, sheriff’s deputies and state troopers threw up a cordon of firepower outside and waited in a silence of uncertainty.
Finally, officers who had not fired a shot closed in and found a sprawl of bodies in a classroom, 37 terrified survivors cowering in closets and a boiler room and, in an office, the dead gunman, identified as Jiverly Wong, 42, a Vietnamese immigrant who lived in nearby Johnson City.
Two pistols and a satchel of ammunition were found with the body. In what the police took to be evidence of preparation and premeditation, the assailant had driven a borrowed car up against the center’s back door to barricade it against escape, then had walked in the rain around to the front to begin the attack.
What motivated the assault remained a mystery. Binghamton officials said the assailant apparently had ties to the center, which helps immigrants and refugees with counseling, resettlement and other issues.
It was the nation’s worst mass shooting since April 16, 2007, when Seung-Hui Cho, 23, shot and killed 32 people in a dormitory and classroom at Virginia Tech University in Blacksburg, Va., then killed himself in the largest shooting in modern American history. In the last month, 25 people, including 2 gunmen, were slain in three mass shootings, in North Carolina, California and Alabama.
As city, state and federal officials from numerous agencies began what was likely to be a lengthy investigation, expressions of condolence for the victims and their families were offered by Gov. David A. Paterson and other officials who went to Binghamton; by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., in New York to address a civil rights group; and by President Obama, in Europe for NATO talks.
The vice president said Americans must find a way to prevent the kind of bloodshed that erupted in Binghamton. “We’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this terrible, terrible violence,” Mr. Biden told a meeting in New York.
Binghamton, a city of about 43,000 at the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers in the Southern Tier, some 175 miles northwest of New York City, is the home of Binghamton University, part of the State University of New York. It is a working-class town whose population is more than 80 percent white and about 10 percent black, with small percentages of Asians and Latinos.
The American Civic Association, a small nonprofit resettlement agency financed largely by the United Way, has resettled 53 refugees through its Binghamton center since 2004, most of them Vietnamese who studied English as a second language there. It operated quietly for years, its officials said, and seemed an improbable venue for a murderous attack.
Little was known about the assailant Friday night. Cautious officials declined to name the gunman, but there appeared to be little doubt about his identity. The name Jiverly Wong was provided by a law enforcement official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to release information.
But the official said Mr. Wong had a New York State pistol license that listed two handguns, apparently the weapons he used at the immigration services center: a .45-caliber Beretta and a 9-millimeter Beretta. The authorities matched the serial numbers of the two weapons found with the gunman’s body to the serial numbers on the pistol license. Officials said they were trying to trace the histories of the guns. Other public records indicated that Mr. Wong had also lived in California in recent years.
At Mr. Wong’s home in Johnson City on Friday night, the police were seen removing a rifle case, a box with a picture of a rifle on the side, and two black boxes that may have been handgun cases.
Maurice Hinchey, who represents the area in Congress, said he was told by law enforcement officials that the gunman drove to the center in a car registered to his father and barricaded the center’s back door with it. “He made sure nobody could escape,” Police Chief Joseph Zikuski said at a late-afternoon news conference.
It was unclear what connection the gunman previously had with the immigration services center, but there appeared to be no doubt that he was acting alone, Chief Zikuski said.
Armed with the two handguns and wearing a green jacket, the executioner came out of the rain through the glass front doors of the center, entering a reception area where he encountered two secretaries. He said nothing, but shot both. One slumped dead, but the other, Shirley DeLucca, pretended to be dead, and as the gunman walked on, she crawled to a desk and called 911.
Beyond the entryway, about 50 people — Russians, Kurds, Chinese, Arabs, Laotians and others — were arrayed in several classrooms at their desks in language and citizenship classes. The gunman entered the first room, a citizenship class, and resumed firing. As victims wounded and dying crumpled to the floor, students in nearby classrooms heard the shots.