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‘My job right then was to keep him behind that pole

Manhattan church choir conductor hides friend behind lamppost as gunman opens fire

The music director at Manhattan’s Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine had just finished conducting a triumphant outdoor Christmas carol performance when shots rang out, forcing him to scramble for cover behind a light pole.



Kent Tritle, 60, told the Daily News he pulled a friend behind the lamppost and tried to keep them both out of sight of the gunman, who fired shots in the air from two guns before police fatally shot him.


Tritle had just finished conducting the carol performance and was greeting people afterward “when I heard this pop and people ran,” he said.


He was chatting with his friend Frank Kehl, 80, when the chaos began.


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“I looked over my shoulder and saw this guy and saw the people down,” Tritle said of the shooter, identified by cops as Luis Manuel Vasquez Gomez, 52. “c but he wasn’t going anywhere, so I grabbed him and put him up against the pole and just wrapped my arms around him and encouraged him to not poke his head around.”



Kent Tritle, the music director at Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine (pictured at far right), had just finished conducting a triumphant outdoor Christmas carol performance when shots rang out, forcing him to scramble for cover behind a light pole on Sunday, Dec. 13.

Kent Tritle, the music director at Manhattan’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine (pictured at far right), had just finished conducting a triumphant outdoor Christmas carol performance when shots rang out, forcing him to scramble for cover behind a light pole on Sunday, Dec. 13. (Steven Wilson via Facebook)

The shooter repeatedly yelled “Kill me!” as he fired shots in the air. One police officer can be seen taking cover behind a pair of garbage cans, then a second, trading gunshots, before the crazed gunman fell to the ground, shot in the head.


Video obtained by the Daily News shows Tritle, dressed in black, with his arm around his friend, who wore a yellow hooded jacket.


“I felt strangely calm, I don’t know why,” Tritle said. “But I saw my job right then was to keep him behind that pole. . . . I was trying to do everything in my power to stay in line with that pole, so that we were not attracting any attention.”


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Kehl told the News that Tritle acted so methodically he thought the music director had been trained on what to do during an active-shooter situation.


He was right. Tritle had received training at the Morningside Heights cathedral, twice.


“The only ‘cover’ was a lamppost with a large traffic control box hanging on it at about eye level. We both stood behind it. Kent told me not to expose myself,” Kehl said. “From our slender ‘cover’ I could see three NYPD blue uniforms in crouched posture at the edge of the Amsterdam [Ave.] roadway, behind garbage pails, guns drawn, shooting at the shooter.”


Kent Tritle leads Musica Sacra performing Handel's "Messiah" at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014.

Kent Tritle leads Musica Sacra performing Handel's "Messiah" at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 23, 2014. (Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images)

One of the cops ran over to Tritle and his friend and rushed them away from the scene.


“An officer ran over and said, ‘Run,’ so we ran,” Tritle said.


Clifton Daniel, 73, the cathedral’s dean, said he heard the gunfire, and stopped to help a man who hit his head on the curb while trying to run away.


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“I’m rather shaken,” Daniel said. “It’ll take a few days to process it all, and we’ve started this process with the staff.”


Daniel stressed the need for gun control and mental health services.


“I think if you ask almost any family of a mentally ill person, they will tell you that there is great difficulty in finding good resources for them on a long-term basis,” Daniel said. “It just seems so hard to get the help that they need. There is a lot of bureaucracy. I don’t see why we have any need for guns in this country other than to shoot people. I don’t want any citizen in this nation to have the right to carry a gun, other than the police.”


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Before the shooting, the outdoor concert was “incredibly cathartic ... it was an extraordinary moment in this pandemic,” Tritle said. “We had all of that, and it was just so surreal to look up there and see this guy. He was really imploring the police to kill him.”


“I feel incredibly grateful,” he added. “This guy, he could have taken out scores of people.”



A man with a pistol in each hand (pictured in yellow square) was fatally shot by cops after he fired bullets into the air outside Manhattan’s famed Cathedral of St. John the Divine at the end of a Christmas carol performance Sunday, Dec. 13.

A man with a pistol in each hand (pictured in yellow square) was fatally shot by cops after he fired bullets into the air outside Manhattan’s famed Cathedral of St. John the Divine at the end of a Christmas carol performance Sunday, Dec. 13. (Steven Wilson via Facebook)

The gunman was firing up and at an angle, Tritle said.



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“He had two pistols. ... I could see the sparks out of each of them. I’ve never seen such a thing, because I’m not a gun person,” he said. “NYPD, they were trying to talk him down, and he was unresponsive.”


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Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine

(Ted Shaffrey/AP)


Gunman killed during Cathedral of St. John the Divine shooting

Tritle thought the man began to angle his gun down at the officer before he was shot.


Three officers fired 15 shots at the man, hitting him in the head. Medics took him to Mount Sinai Morningside hospital, but he couldn’t be saved.


“I have nothing but praise for the NYPD and the way they handled it,” Tritle said. “It was intense.”


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The cops also won high praise from Police Commissioner Dermot Shea.


“Last night, as shots rang out at an #UWS church, bystanders ran for their lives,” Shea tweeted. “Three heroic NYPD cops ran toward the gunfire & engaged the shooter. These officers didn’t do it for praise or recognition, they did it because it’s in their blood to protect.”


Source:https://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/ny-church-choir-conductor-light-pole-20201214-4e6wrmpipvbz5ekvl66ypfn22y-story.html

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