Gunshots Outside Cathedral Caused Chaos After Peaceful Event; ‘I Can’t Stop Shaking’

Amsterdam Avenue after the shooting.

By Amelia Roth-Dishy

Workers at the Hungarian Pastry Shop were enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon when shots rang out.

“We were so scared, we didn’t even see anything,” Fana, an employee at the shop, said. The shooting occurred across the street on the steps of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, marking a terrifying and tragic end to a joyous outdoor caroling concert that had just concluded.

Amidst the chaos, a number of concertgoers rushed into the beloved pastry emporium, which is across the street from the cathedral. The staff quickly ushered people inside and locked the door. People huddled in the back and, according to Fana, crouched with their heads in their hands. Another employee confirmed that the group remained in the store for around 20 minutes before beginning to trickle out.

Fana and her fellow Hungarian Pastry Shop employees were visibly shaken by the afternoon’s events. “It was so scary,” Fana emphasized.

Coffee orders from the phalanx of NYPD officers on the scene kept the shop busy through the evening. Patrons at the adjacent restaurants, Tartina and V&T Pizzeria, observed the police proceedings from their outdoor tables as the sun went down.

No one in the concert crowd was harmed in the incident outside the cathedral, which is in the NYPD’s 26th Precinct. Police shot at the gunman — who, according to various reports, wildly discharged his weapon into the air from the steps as the audience was dispersing on the street — and he was brought to Mt. Sinai St. Luke’s Hospital in critical condition. He was later pronounced dead, according to police.

Those closest to the violence saw a joyous moment quickly turn terrifying. Shanna Kelly, a Columbia Journalism School student who attended the event to film it, was staring at the shooter as he began firing his weapon: “my mind refused to admit what I was seeing,” she wrote. She and her mother hit the pavement and watched as police shot at the gunman. “The cement was so cold,” she wrote. “My head was turned to the street and the cops felt so far away on the other side of the street.” Kelly’s mother threw herself on top of her daughter and began to pray. They lay there until an officer told them to get up and move — they then “sprinted full speed across the street” to join others hiding behind cars.

Madeleine Tsingopoulos, who lives across the street from the Cathedral, happened upon the concert by accident. “It was just this most peaceful, spiritual event,” she said. She estimated that around 100-200 people, socially distanced and wearing masks, were gathered on Amsterdam Avenue watching the carolers sing on the cathedral steps.

Tsingopoulos left right when the concert ended at around 3:45pm, but returned to the scene later when her daughter reported seeing armored trucks and SWAT teams surrounding the cathedral.

According to eyewitnesses gathered on the street who recounted what they saw to Tsingopoulous, the man shouted at the nearby officers to kill him as he fired a gun into the sky. People inside the cathedral at the time of the shooting, who had been listening to the concert, also told Tsingopoulos that SWAT teams had entered the building and told occupants to “freeze, put your hands up, wait, don’t move,” in case of another shooter.

Those gathered in the nave were then led to a yellow-tape corral on the east side of Amsterdam Avenue outside the Cathedral’s garden. They were kept there for over an hour and released around 5:15pm.

Manhattan Borough President Gale A. Brewer reported on Twitter that her Chief of Staff and Press Secretary had been present at the concert. “We don’t have a lot of information but our gratitude goes out to first responders,” she said. While facts emerged over the course of the afternoon, it was initially unclear whether the shots had come from inside or outside the cathedral. Matthew Bishop, a journalist and author who attended the concert, tweeted at 3:56pm, “sounds of shooting inside church after outdoor carol service.”

Council Member Mark D. Levine tweeted that “a person who appeared to be mentally ill climbed the scaffolding inside the church during a Christmas service at about 4:00pm,” but later appended a correction stating that the shooting had occurred on the steps.

The area was still an active crime scene as of 6:30pm, with the NYPD counterterrorism bureau and bomb squads on site. Amsterdam Avenue was blocked off from 110th-113th Streets — and because of the Open Streets: Restaurants program this weekend, the avenue was also closed from 97th-110th Streets.

NEWS | 20 comments | permalink
    1. good humor says:

      Tragic. WSR is my portal for all things Upper West Side, and I’ve read about far more unnatural death and gun fire over the past 3-4 years.

      Each of these events causes people to reconsider celebrating events, going out to eat, and even living here.

      My heart goes out to everyone at this tragic event, including the deceased.

      • Crankypants says:

        The UWS is still a magnificent place to live, especially when our first responders get the support and respect they deserve. Yesterday, those responders included the wonderful folks at the Pastry Shop. (Great coffee there, too!)
        Thanks to all our EMTs, NYPD & FDNY. Heroes all.

        • HelenD says:

          Get real! This is the 2nd post I’ve read in regard to recent violence where someone still has to slip in a food review, as if that’s enough to cheer everyone up. I’m sure that none of the people involved were thinking of pastry when they were hearing the gun shots and having this horrible experience. 🙁

    2. naro says:

      88% of arrested gun carrying criminals are released immediately into the community. This release is a death sentence to others in the community, and also leads to escalating retaliations and revenge killings. The mayor is oblivious to the destruction of the city just as the mayors of Havana and Caracas have been indifferent to the utter deterioration of their cities.

      • Leon says:

        Totally agree. We have to be tougher on crime, especially for repeat offenders. I’m not sure if this is the jurisdiction of the city or the state (I think it is the city), but we need much stricter laws from guns down to basic quality of life offenses. We have moved way too far in the other direction. By trying to be overly sensitive to people’s civil rights, the civil rights of the rest of us are being violated. Do the crime, do the time.

        Thanks to NYPD for your excellent work.

        • Sarah says:

          “Arrested” does not by itself mean “criminal” and if one of your kids was picked up for something you’d be screaming that to the skies. Let me know when you’re ready to sign up for indefinite detention pending an unknown trial date just because a cop grabbed you up.

          The incident yesterday seems to have been a tragic mental health case and just another example of why tighter gun control is necessary.

          • Leon says:

            What part of me saying “especially for repeat offenders” did you miss? I agree that one offense for a petty crime shouldn’t get you the chair, but repeat violators now get off way too easily, and police officers are unable to do anything. We should also invest in the judicial process so people aren’t waiting forever to be tried.

            As I previously stated, I totally agree on cracking down on guns.

      • Isaac says:

        Has there been any evidence that this individual was previously arrested and released?

        Not sure what Havana or Caracas have to do with this disturbed individual…

    3. lynn says:

      Folks may recall the incident near the Empire State Bldg ten years ago when several bystanders were caught in cross-fire between police and a gunman who had just killed someone. Terrifying, yet thankfully rare.
      Guns just do not belong in a densely populated city, if anywhere

    4. Wjlee says:

      We attended the concert and just entered our apartment on Amsterdam and 110 when we heard the shots and saw people running. So glad no one other than the shooter was hurt. Great job NYPD.

    5. Huh says:

      Minor quibble considering the story, but for the record open streets now starts at 106 so it’s not accurate to state that “the avenue was also closed from 97th-110th Street”

    6. Dom says:

      Had the gunman been black, there’d be protests in the streets.

    7. Wendy Deutelbaum says:

      Just to add to the Hungarian Pastry helpfulness comments, we were at Book Culture during the shooting and they, too, were protective and helpful, helping people in, closing the door, turning out the lights, etc. Thanks for taking care of your customers during an unknown and scary situation.

    8. Citygirl says:

      Let’s get some help for mentally ill in the city.

      I was there and it was frightening. AND I wonder if the self destructive shooter had anyone to talk to?

      Thankful that we were okay.

    9. Wendy says:

      I was at the concert and then at V&T across the street afterwards, when the shooting started and everyone began running. I had a very clear view of a community affairs cop bravely shooting at the shooter from behind a very slim tree that wasn’t much protection for him. It was surreal, freaky and scary. They think it was a “suicide by cop “scenario. The police did an excellent job. This could’ve been an absolute massacre, but I don’t think that’s with the shooter was there for, although his bag did have a can of gasoline, more weapons, wires, tape, and a Bible. Luckily police were there already to help manage the road closures during the concert. But within two minutes there were 20 police cars there. It was a shocking conclusion to a beautiful peaceful concert extolling love, peace, and harmony.

    10. Mimi says:

      His history started when he was only 20, and so badly beaten by prison guards, he lost most of his ability to hear. He was also in solitary for months on end.
      No angel, but a broken, disturbed and thrown away human being.
      I find this terribly sad, that at his age he finally saw not recourse for his life but to be put down by cops.

    11. Gigi says:

      Council Member Mark Levine’s comments were inappropriate. As a public figure especially, unless he has facts, he should not be ‘supposing’ casually on the state of the shooter or a situation. Irresponsible comments again. Does he understand the meaning of ‘facts’ and communicating with his constituents with ‘facts’? Ever?