A former city police officer who was dismissed for drug use opened fire with a rifle yesterday from the window of his Stuyvesant Town apartment, wounding a preschool teacher walking with children and transforming the densely populated complex into a ghost town as residents scurried for cover.
The gunman held the sprawling Manhattan development hostage for two and a half hours, firing at least 20 shots in several bursts as more than 140 heavily armed officers searched for his sniper’s perch and sealed off an area of more than six square blocks, the police said.
Until the gunman, identified as Brian Berrigan, 33, was arrested about 2 p.m., helicopters hovered above the development of more than 80 buildings, and the streets and pathways of the complex were choked with police vehicles. Hundreds of residents were trapped inside their apartments or kept from returning to them during the stalemate. Some spent much of the ordeal trapped in a basement laundry room.
The teacher and a co-worker were taking eight children for a walk from their preschool on East 14th Street when she was hit in her left shoulder and suffered a superficial wound, the police said. The teacher, Ayana Reyes, 25, was treated at Bellevue Hospital Center — where doctors closed the wound with five stitches — and then released.
The shooting shattered the calm in a development long known as a sedate urban refuge, a parklike complex of trim lawns and neat brick buildings where many of its 20,000 or so residents are police officers, firefighters and other civil servants.
”I can walk around here at night, no problem,” said Timothy Arizan, a resident of the complex for 15 years. ”I have my kids running around here all the time.”
Police officials said Mr. Berrigan, who was on the police force for two years but was fired from the department in 1997, was a family man who lived in the complex with his wife and small child. But recently, because of marital discord, his wife had asked him to move out of their apartment, he later told investigators. He also told them that he had gambling and drinking problems, a police official said.
Depressed and angry, according to investigators, he took to the windows of his fourth-floor apartment at 647 East 14th Street around 11:30 a.m. and began firing shots with a .22-caliber rifle. He shot the teacher, Ms. Reyes, as she was escorting the children past a flagpole just 40 yards from Mr. Berrigan’s apartment window.
Ms. Reyes, who at first did not realize she had been shot, and a school aide rushed the 2-year-olds back to the Manhattan Kids Club II preschool nearby on East 14th Street. She then returned to the scene, where she tried to help determine the source of the gunfire.
”The only thing I could think of was getting the kids back,” she said, adding that she was unsure of what the noise was. ”I stayed calm. I didn’t want them to feel like there was anything wrong.”
For hours, officers in flak jackets searched the buildings. Meanwhile, Mr. Berrigan returned to three windows in his apartment several times and fired into the courtyard, the police said.
Three cars were hit in a parking area near the flagpole. An armored police vehicle was also hit. And one of Mr. Berrigan’s neighbors, who lived in an apartment across the courtyard, was home when another shot blasted through his window.
Mr. Berrigan made no loud pronouncements to indicate the source of his anger or to reveal his position. As a result, Emergency Service Unit officers from Squad One did not know whether the sniper was inside his apartment, 4B, when they knocked on the door shortly before 2 p.m. There was no answer. But using a passkey, they entered the apartment.
”He was sitting at a table and he was unresponsive to the officers,” Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said at a news briefing after Mr. Berrigan’s arrest. Mr. Berrigan at first denied knowing about the shootings but later admitted he had a pellet gun in a closet, the police said.
The police, continuing their search, found shell casings in the apartment and the rifle in a garment bag beneath a fur coat in the closet, a senior police official said. Mr. Berrigan was being held last night at the 13th Precinct station house where, investigators said, he wept and admitted to the shootings.
The police said last night that he was charged with attempted murder, attempted assault, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.
He told the police that he had been drinking and felt suicidal because his wife had asked him to move out, investigators said. He was unable to summon the nerve to shoot himself and out of desperation began firing out the window but said he never intended to hurt anyone, investigators said. Mr. Berrigan joined the force in 1995 and was assigned to the 23rd Precinct, where he had a clean disciplinary record. But a routine drug test in 1997 found cocaine in his system, the police said. Several neighbors said he had been working in construction.
Yonette Bowen, who lives two floors above Mr. Berrigan and said she knew his family well because their children played together, added, ”He seemed perfectly normal.”