April 3, 2009 / 4:25 PM / in 9 years

New York immigrant center shooting leaves 14 dead

BINGHAMTON, New York (Reuters) - A man armed with two handguns killed 13 people at an immigration services center before apparently turning the gun on himself, authorities in Binghamton, New York, said on Friday.

<p>Police investigate a shooting scene outside the American Civic Center on Front Street in Binghampton, New York, April 3, 2009. REUTERS/Hans Pennink</p>

Police Chief Joseph Zikuski told a news conference the gunman blocked the back entrance of the building with a car, walked in the front door and shot two receptionists, one of whom died, before entering a classroom and killing 12 more people and then apparently committing suicide.

He said that four other people were critically wounded in the latest U.S. shooting incident with multiple casualties.

One of the receptionists survived, pretending to be dead before crawling under a desk where she managed to call police, Zikuski said. She was in critical condition in a hospital.

“We have no idea what the motive is,” Zikuski said, adding that the man was no stranger to the center.

Representative Maurice Hinchey, whose district includes Binghamton, told The New York Times that indications are the gunman was an immigrant from Vietnam and the car he used was registered to his father.

Local media reported the man was in his early 40s.

“It was definitely premeditated. He barricaded the back door -- put his car right against the door so nobody could escape,” Zikuski said.

Zikuski said 37 people were evacuated safely from the building, 26 of whom had sought refuge in the basement.

All the shots were fired before police reached the scene on a main street in Binghamton, a town of some 45,000 people about 150 miles northwest of New York City.

President Barack Obama, in France and Germany for a NATO meeting, said in a statement he was “shocked and deeply saddened” by the shooting.

<p>Police investigate a shooting scene outside the American Civic Center on Front Street in Binghampton, New York, April 3, 2009. REUTERS/Hans Pennink</p>

TARGETS ‘AMERICAN DREAM’

The American Civic Association building is used to teach English and provide other services to recent immigrants to the United States who are preparing for U.S. citizenship.

New York Governor David Paterson said it was a “senseless act of violence” that targeted people “who wanted to be part of the American dream.”

Slideshow (3 Images)

Zikuski said police believed the gunman was among the dead because the body of a man wearing a satchel holding ammunition was found, as well as two handguns. Police also tracked down the owner of the car who had lent it to the suspect.

Local media reports said authorities requested a Vietnamese translator to speak with the gunman.

Vice President Joe Biden told a civil rights meeting in New York City the victims were in the process of taking exams to become citizens when the shooting started.

“We’ve got to figure a way to deal with this senseless, senseless violence,” Biden said.

There have been several mass shootings in recent years in the United States, where guns are widely available for purchase and the right to own weapons is enshrined in the Constitution.

Last month, a man killed 10 people, many of them family members, in a shooting rampage in Alabama.

On April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech, a university in Blacksburg, Virginia, became the site of the deadliest shooting rampage in modern U.S. history when a student gunman killed 32 people and himself.

“When are we going to be able to curb the kind of violence that is so fraught and so rapid we can’t even keep track of the incidents?” Paterson asked at a news conference.

Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta, Claudia Parsons, Joan Gralla, Michelle Nichols and Ellen Wulfhorst in New York; Editing by Eric Beech

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