Two Western students survive brush with gun-toting lunatic
By Sandra Dimitrakopoulos
Two Western students became key witnesses to a random act of violence on the observation deck of the Empire State Building over slack week.
On March 23, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal used the famous New York City tourist site for a shooting spree, ending 66 years of celebrated non-incidence at the building.
Before the shooting began, the gunman had been on the east deck inquiring as to who was American among the visitors, said Larissa Hachinski, a fourth-year history student at Brescia College. His last conversation with some tourists from Europe ended amicably yet moments later he shot and killed one of the men point blank in the head and continued to injure six others, Hachinski said.
"It was over within 15 seconds," said Hachinski, who noted the shots were loud and sounded like balloons popping. "We were only two metres away but luckily the gunman was shooting to his right and we were to his left."
In the midst of confusion, one woman left her baby out on the deck while she ran in for safety and some tourists took the opportunity to loot the gift store and take purses and cameras which had been dropped as others tried to escape the bullets, said Doug Keddy, a third-year history/English student at Huron College.
Keddy said he turned to look back in the confusion and saw a body turned towards him lying in blood. "I didn't realize until I saw a picture in the paper the Wednesday after the shooting that the body I had seen was the gunman."
Found on Kamal was more ammunition, a knife and a letter written half in Arabic, half in English, which stated his claim of hatred primarily of Americans but also included the British, French and students, which may stem from the fact Kamal was once a teacher, Hachinski said.
The letter also stated the gunman had intended to commit this act sooner yet had not because of "other obligations," and Kamal purposely rented a limousine the day before the shooting in order to scout out a location, Hachinski added.
The police initially interviewed 100 witnesses yet seven people, including Keddy and Hachinski, were obtained for a further seven hours of questioning by the FBI and district attorneys.
Keddy and Hachinski were in New York visiting Larissa's younger brother, Eric, for slack week and both made it clear the senseless act of violence will not keep them from returning to the city which they found to be very safe despite the negative incident.
Lydia Ruth, spokeswoman for the Empire State Building, said the ease and acceptance of guns is a main concern and added this is the type of incident that could happen anywhere. "It hit us so hard because we're like a family here."