Police trying to uncover motive in federal building shooting

Police officers work at the scene following a shooting at a federal building, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. A man walked into the building in Manhattan and opened fire before turning the gun on himself, police said. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
Police officers work at the scene following a shooting at a federal building, Friday, Aug. 21, 2015, in New York. A man walked into the building in Manhattan and opened fire before turning the gun on himself, police said. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

NEW YORK (AP) – Investigators are trying to figure out why an armed veteran slipped through a side door of a federal building in Manhattan, fatally shooting a security guard before killing himself.

Federal agents swarmed Kevin Downing’s home in Fort Lee, New Jersey, hours after the Friday evening shooting, searching for anything that could help them understand the shooting.

They said the 68-year-old former federal employee and armed forces veteran opened fire at the federal building on Varick Street that houses an immigration court, passport processing center and a regional office for the Department of Labor.

As he approached a metal detector, Downing shot FJC Security Services guard Idrissa Camara, police said. Camara was supposed to leave work at 4 p.m. but had agreed to stay for an extra shift, his company said.

After shooting the senior security guard in the head at close range, Downing walked toward an elevator where he encountered another employee, and then shot himself in the head, said James O’Neill, a chief with the New York Police Department.

“We’re in the very early stages of the investigation and are working to establish his motive for coming here, if he had an intended target beyond the security officer, and what the motive was behind the crime,” O’Neill said. There was no indication the shooting was terrorism-related, he said.

John Miller, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner for intelligence and counterterrorism, said Downing was a former employee at the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. Detectives still are trying to piece together his work history.

A New Jersey newspaper, The Record, reported that Downing had been fired from his job at the New York City office of the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1999. In 2013, U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell wrote a letter to the Department of Labor saying “there is evidence to indicate Mr. Downing’s termination was inappropriate because it was in retaliation for his communication with Congressional staff regarding what he believed to be waste and abuse present in the Bureau of Labor Statistics.”

Neither Pascrell nor a spokesman for the Labor Department returned calls from The Associated Press late Friday.

Asked about the prospect that Downing was a whistleblower, Miller told reporters: “That would go to potential motive. Part of the background we’re conducting now is, ‘What was his motive?'”

Miller said Downing had also collected Veterans Affairs benefits, but investigators were unsure which branch of the armed service he served in. A VA spokeswoman said the agency had offices in the building but did not immediately respond to questions about Downing’s military service.

The FBI is assisting in the investigation because Camara was working as a contractor for a federal agency, police said.

Camara was armed but never had a chance to defend himself, the security company said.

“Camara … was an extraordinary Senior Guard who was well trained, cared deeply about his job and knew that building better than anyone else,” said Michael McKeon, a spokesman for the security company.

Hector Figueroa, the president of Camara’s union, 32 BJ SEIU, said he was horrified by the news.

“Security officers around the city and country serve on the front line each and every day to keep us safe and secure,” Figueroa said. “We are heartbroken that one of our own has fallen. We hope some of our questions in the face of this terrible tragedy will be answered. For now, we are keeping Camara’s family and loved ones in our thoughts and prayers.”

Associated Press writers Jake Pearson and Colleen Long and AP researcher Barbara Sambriski contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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