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Gunman killed by police after opening fire at New York City cathedral

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Police officers move in on the scene of a shooting at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine
Police officers move in on the scene of a shooting at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine   -   Copyright  AP Photo
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Police in New York City shot a man dead on the steps of a cathedral on Sunday after he began firing two handguns at the end of a Christmas choral concert, police said.

The gunfire began just before 4pm at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, mother church of the Episcopal Diocese of New York.

A 45-minute concert held on the cathedral steps had just concluded and a crowd of several hundred people was drifting away when the gunman started shooting, sending people running and screaming.

A detective, a sergeant and a police officer who were at the event fired 15 rounds, killing the man, said New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.

“It is by the grace of God today,” he said, that no one besides the gunman was struck.

The attacker was dressed in black with his face obscured by a white baseball cap and a face mask. He held a silver pistol in one hand and a black one in the other as he stepped from behind a stone column at the top of the staircase.

Witnesses told police the man was yelling “kill me" as he fired, Shea said. The man's name was not immediately released by police.

The man had a lengthy criminal history and was carrying a backpack containing a can of gasoline, rope, wire, tape, knives and a well-worn Bible, Shea said. The police commissioner called the actions of the officers “heroic.”

It wasn’t clear if the gunman was aiming at people or firing in the air.

Before the gunfire began, the concert featured members of the cathedral choir standing far apart on the stone steps wearing masks because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“It was just beautiful, and then at the end this person started shooting. Everybody is in shock,” a cathedral spokeswoman, Lisa Schubert, told The New York Times.

“The shooter could have killed a lot of people. There were hundreds of people here and he shot at least 20 times.”

The cathedral is one of the world’s largest. Construction began in 1892 and is still incomplete.