Mother of Empire State Building Gunman Speaks Out, Wonders Why

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The mother of Jeffrey T. Johnson harbors no ill will toward the NYPD. She understands why her son - who shot an ex-colleague last week before being gunned down by multiple police officers - was killed on the streets of New York City.

But that doesn't mean she understands what drove Johnson to commit such a heinous act outside the Empire State Building on August 24.

“I don’t blame police in New York for shooting my son because he killed somebody, but for me, he hasn’t changed," Ms. Johnson tells The New York Times in a new interview. "He’s still the kindhearted, caring person who loved all kinds of animals and I’m sure he loved us. You know a mother always tries to look for the best in you.”

Jeffrey T. Johnson

For privacy's sake, Ms. Johnson asked for her first name to be withheld, but she did give readers a bit of insight into her child.

He moved from Japan to Georgia when he was an infant. He was nearly killed in a car accident when he was 11. His longtime cat recently died in his arms, a development that left Johnson's life "diminished tenfold" according to a letter he wrote his mother.

He joined the Coast Guard after dropping out of college and was married for four years before a divorce about three decades ago.

Johnson murdered former coworker Steven Ercolino, police believe, because he blamed the account executive for his firing last year from Hazan Imports, where Johnson designed women's T-shirts. He then aimed his weapon at two cops and was shot dead.

“I believe that he turned and pointed the gun at them to make sure that they would shoot him and he would die,” Ms. Johnson told the newspaper.

After the 9/11/01 terrorist attacks, Johnson, who lived in New York at the time, hoped to return to the Coast Guard.

“He was very patriotic,” his mother said. “He wanted to fight again, but the government told him he was too old.”

Ms. Johnson said she hasn't seen her son since 1990, but - until this January - the two talked on the phone every Sunday. She last chatted with Jeffrey on April 6 when he called to wish her a happy birthday.

Not long after that, he sent her a two-page letter that focused significantly on the loss of his cat.

“I am astonished by how much I miss him,” Jeffrey wrote. “He just filled every room in the apartment. Nothing seems special without him around. It embarrasses me that I feel this way. Life is bigger than one cat or me or you. But I can’t shake the feeling that life has been diminished tenfold by Romeo’s parting.”

Johnson was forced to euthanize the cat due to cancer and wrote ominously to his mother a few months afterward that he "honestly would have traded places with him.”