Police say N.Y. gunman was prepared to fight them

Sunday, April 5, 2009
This photo released Saturday, April 4, 2009, by the Binghamton Police Department shows Jiverly Wong, the gunman who killed 13 people in a rampage at an immigrant community center. The gunman who killed 13 people in a rampage at an immigrant community center and then committed suicide was wearing body armor, indicating he was prepared to battle with law enforcers, the Binghamton police chief said Saturday. (AP Photo/Binghamton Police Department)

BINGHAMTON, N.Y. -- Jiverly Wong was upset over losing his job at a vacuum plant, didn't like people picking on him for his limited English and once angrily told a co-worker, "America sucks."

It remains unclear exactly why the Vietnamese immigrant strapped on a bulletproof vest, barged in on a citizenship class and killed 13 people and himself, but the police chief says he knows one thing for sure: "He must have been a coward."

Jiverly Wong had apparently been preparing for a gunbattle with police but changed course and decided to turn the gun on himself when he heard sirens approaching, chief Joseph Zikuski said Saturday.

"He had a lot of ammunition on him, so thank God before more lives were lost, he decided to do that," the chief said.

Police and Wong's acquaintances portrayed him as an angry, troubled 41-year-old man who struggled with drugs and job loss and perhaps blamed his adopted country for his troubles. His rampage "was not a surprise" to those who knew him, Zikuski said.

Wong, who used the alias Jiverly Voong, believed people close to him were making fun of him for his poor English language skills, the chief said.

Until last month, he had been taking classes at the American Civic Association, which teaches English to immigrants.

Then, on Friday, he parked his car against the back door of the building, burst through the front doors and shot two receptionists, killing one before moving on to a classroom where he claimed 12 more victims, police said.

The police chief said most of the dead had multiple gunshot wounds. Wong used two handguns -- a 9 mm and a .45-caliber -- for which he had obtained a permit more than a decade ago.

The receptionist who survived, 61-year-old Shirley DeLucia, played dead, then called 911 despite her injuries and stayed on the line while the gunman remained in the building.

"She's a hero in her own right," he said.

Police initially said it took 90 minutes to rescue her. On Saturday, Zikuski said it was actually 39 minutes, and he said the police response followed all proper procedures.

"The police did the right thing," Zikuski said.

DeLucia remained in critical condition Saturday. The chief said she and three other hospitalized victims were all expected to survive.

Wong's tactics -- including the body armor and copious ammunition -- fit him into a category of killers called "pseudo-commandos," said Park Dietz, a criminologist and forensic psychiatrist at UCLA.

"This was all about anger, paranoia and desperation."

Wong worked at the Shop-Vac plant in Binghamton. Former co-worker Kevin Greene said Wong once said, in answer to whether he liked the New York Yankees, "No, I don't like that team. I don't like America. America sucks."

Zikuski said Wong was fired from that job. That's apparently when things really started to go downhill.

"People who end up doing this particular thing have an accumulation of stressers in their lives, and ultimately there is the one that broke the camel's back," Dietz said. "Job loss is one of the big ones, and those stressers are happening more often this year."

Huynh, the 56-year-old proprietor of an Asian grocery store in Binghamton frequented by the gunman's sister, ran into Wong at the gym recently and noted that he was complaining about how he couldn't find work.

His unemployment benefits were only $200 a week, and he lamented his bad luck, she said.

"He's upset he don't have a job here. He come back and want to work," Huynh said. Her husband tried to cheer him up by saying that he was still young and had plenty of time to find work.

Wong's story is similar to how friends were describing the recent trials of a man accused of opening fire on Pittsburgh police officers during a domestic dispute Saturday, killing three of them. They said he had recently been upset about losing his job; police say that, like Wong, he was wearing a bulletproof vest.

A woman reached at the home who identified herself as Wong's sister told The Associated Press late Friday she did not believe he was the gunman. "I think somebody involved, not him," she said.

That's not an unusual response, Dietz said.

"What will be revealed if the investigation goes deep enough is that many people in a shooter's world knew that he was angry, mad, unreasonable, scary at times, and recently some of them came to learn that he was threatening and armed," said Dietz, who is not involved in the Binghamton investigation.

"They've known that for a long time, but none of them did what they should have done with that information."

State police got tips suggesting that Wong may have been planning a bank robbery in 1999, possibly to support a crack-cocaine addiction, Zikuski said. But the robbery never happened, and Zikuski had no other information.

Wong's father was well-known in the Binghamton area through his work years ago at the now-defunct World Relief Organization, helping recent immigrants find a doctor and obtain food stamps.

"Everyone, when they come to America, he's the one who helps," said Ty Tran, who came to the United States in 1990.

Mark Preston, 48, a neighbor of the gunman in Johnson City, outside Binghamton, said people in the family keep to themselves but often tended the bushes in their yard.

"They grow great vegetables and roses," he said.

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