HERKIMER, N.Y. (AP) — A 64-year-old loner sauntered into a barbershop in upstate New York, coolly asked if the man cutting hair remembered him then opened fire, the first shots in a burst of violence that would leave four dead, two critically wounded and people in this small village aching to find out what set the gunman off.
New York state police vowed to wait out Kurt Myers, the man suspected of gunning down four people then holing up in an abandoned building. Police kept vigilant watch there into Thursday morning, periodically blaring sirens in an apparent attempt to encourage Myers to surrender, if alive. Booms also were heard.
John Seymour, one of the men wounded in the attacks told his sister, Mary Hornett, the barbershop attack came out of nowhere.
“He just said that the guys were in the barbershop and this guy comes in and he says, ‘Hi John, do you remember me?’ and my brother said, ‘Yes, Kurt, how are you?’ and then he just started shooting,” Hornett said.
Hornett said her brother, who was hospitalized in critical condition, was doing well after being shot in the left hand and right hip.
“My brother couldn’t think of any reason why he would do such a thing,” she said of Myers, a former customer who hadn’t been in the shop for a couple of years.
Officers were fired on from the abandoned building on Wednesday afternoon while looking for Myers, state police Superintendent Joseph D’Amico said. At least one officer returned fire.
“We’re in no rush to bring this to a conclusion,” D’Amico said, adding that the main objective was to make sure no one else was hurt.
Late Wednesday, state police spokesman Jack Keller said police were working under the assumption Myers was alive and said the heavily armed troopers and local police were ready to wait out the suspected gunman.
The shootings shattered the peace and rattled the nerves of Mohawk and Herkimer, two small villages about 170 miles northwest of New York City, separated from each other by the Mohawk River, the New York State Thruway and just a mile. Police snipers waited on rooftops on a block of small businesses in Herkimer as they waited for Myers to emerge.
Police said Myers’ rampage started with a fire in his apartment in the nearby village of Mohawk at about 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. He then drove to John’s Barber Shop around the corner and used a shotgun to kill two customers, D’Amico said, identifying them as Harry Montgomery, 68, and Michael Ransear, 57, a retired corrections officer. In addition to Seymour, the shop’s owner, another customer, Dan Haslauer, also was listed in critical condition at a Utica hospital.
The gunman then drove to Gaffy’s Fast Lube in nearby Herkimer and used the shotgun to kill Thomas Stefka, an employee, and Michael Renshaw, a customer who was a 23-year veteran of the state Department of Corrections, D’Amico said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a press conference in Herkimer, called it “truly an inexplicable situation.”
“There’s no apparent motive to the best of our knowledge at this time to provoke these attacks,” he said.
Police had not had any communication with Myers, whose only known police record was a 1973 drunken-driving arrest, D’Amico said.
Police were positioned in front of a block of small businesses topped with apartments in the village of Herkimer on Wednesday evening.
A local businessman, jeweler Fred Weisser, said police were trying to get people out while Myers was believed to be in a building next door.
“They’re sending in a robot to check the place out,” he said by telephone. “I guess we’re stuck. We’re between him and the cops. I don’t want to step out and get clipped by a sniper.”
Myles Smith, who lives in one of the apartments above the shops, said by cellphone he had heard police trying to talk to Myers.
“The snipers on the roof are sitting there,” Smith said. “I ain’t seen a whole lot of movement. I heard about five gunshots. I keep hearing them trying to talk him out, but I don’t think he’s coming out.”
The rear of the small building where Myers lived was burned out, and police continued to guard the building, where they found guns and ammunition. It was unclear if they were in his apartment.
Neighbors said they barely knew Myers, who rarely spoke, left every morning in his red Jeep and came back.
Traci Randall said the only time she remembers speaking to her next-door neighbor was when he yelled at her son because he thought he had shot an air pellet at his Jeep.
“He would walk by himself. He was kind of a loner. No wife,” she said.
Neighbors said he never had visitors or friends. Gary Urich said Myers wouldn’t even say much as ‘Hi’ to him when walking by his porch.
“I said, ‘How are you doing?’ No response. He just walked by,” he said.
Michele Mlinar, a bartender at Cangee’s Bar and Grille in Herkimer, said Myers frequently went in and had a bottle or two of Coors Light and left without speaking to anyone. She said he was always alone and she didn’t even know his name until police released his mug shot on Wednesday.
Cangee’s owner Candy Rellin called Myers “just an odd little man.”
The two villages are about 65 miles east of Syracuse on opposite sides of the Mohawk River — which connects the Erie Canal to the Hudson River and from there, the sea — in a region known as the Mohawk Valley.
James Baron, the mayor of Mohawk described his village as close-knit and friendly, “the kind of place where you’d say, ‘Oh, it would never happen here.’”
Elizabeth Cirelli was shocked by Stefka’s slaying. He was a neighbor in Herkimer.
“He was a great guy, a really nice person. This is horrific. We really couldn’t believe it,” she said.
Herkimer County Community College lifted a lockdown during the afternoon, and schools near the scene released students. D’Amico said most of the three-block neighborhood around the search scene was evacuated.
Herkimer is a village of 7,700 named for the German immigrant family that settled in the western Mohawk Valley in the 1720s. The economically distressed villages are 2 miles away from Ilion, where a 2-century-old Remington Arms gun plant is a major employer.
Associated Press writers Chris Carola and Mary Esch in Albany and Tom McElroy in New York contributed to this report.