BINGHAMTON, Apr 4 – A gunman massacred 13 people and left four more fighting for their life before turning the gun on himself in an attack at an immigrant centre in New York state.
Police said the slayings took place Friday on the main floor of the American Civic Association (ACC) in Binghamton, 135 miles (217 kilometers) northwest of New York City.
The gunman, reportedly of Vietnamese origin, had blocked the back door of the center with his car, entered the building and opened fire.
Dozens more people spent four hours cowering in the center’s basement, waiting to be told by police that they were safe to leave.
Local police chief Joseph Zikuski said that there were "14 confirmed dead in the building" and that he had "very good reason to believe that the shooter is among the dead at the scene."
"We removed safely 37 people. Four people we removed are wounded," Zikuski told a news conference.
All four are listed in critical condition.
Zikuski said that the emergency call was made by a receptionist shot in the stomach but who pretended she was dead until she could make her escape.
Two handguns were recovered at the scene.
The gunman was identified as Jiverly Wong, a man in his early 40s, who came from Johnson City, near Binghamton, where he lived with his mother. Police have searched his home.
Zikuski said the gunman had been "recently terminated from a job. He didn’t speak English very well."
President Barack Obama, on a visit to France, said he was "shocked and deeply saddened to learn about the act of senseless violence."
Many of those in the center, which helps people prepare for citizenship tests, were apparently of Vietnamese origin and did not speak good English.
New York state Governor David Paterson said victims were there to pursue "the American dream."
"There still is an American dream and all of us who are Americans will try to heal this very, very deep wound in the city of Binghamton," he said.
In the basement, English teacher Priscilla Pease called her husband from her cell phone to say that she and a fellow teacher and 24 students were afraid but alive in the furnace room.
The police chief said he had "no idea what the motive is."
Binghamton Mayor Matthew Ryan said churches around the city were holding overnight vigils for the victims.
Friday’s carnage is the latest incident to rock small-town America, where many fiercely defend the legal right to bear firearms.
On Sunday, a heavily-armed man burst into a North Carolina nursing home killing eight people before being shot and wounded by a policeman.
Earlier this month, a 28-year-old unemployed man killed 10 people, including his mother and a toddler, in a shooting rampage through two counties in Alabama, the worst in the southern state’s history.
Last December, a man dressed as Santa Claus opened fire at a Christmas party being given by his ex-wife in Covina, California, killing nine people before shooting himself.
October 2008, an ex-convict opened fire with an assault rifle at a man and two children who had come to trick-or-treat at his home in Sumter, South Carolina on Halloween. A 12-year-old boy died of his wounds in that incident.
And last September, a mentally ill man shot eight people, killing six, in Alger, Washington a month after being released from prison.
Paterson expressed his "profound outrage" at Friday’s killings, and the series of deadly attacks that preceded them.
"When are we going to be able to curve the kind of violence so rampant that we can’t even keep track of the incidents?" he said.
Friday’s incident comes days before the second anniversary of a massacre at Virginia Tech — the deadliest school shooting in US history in which 32 students and professors were shot dead by a student gunman — and weeks before the 10th anniversary of the Columbine, Colorado school shooting.
The recent spate may be linked to the recession gripping the country, experts say.