NEW YORK -- New York officials proudly tout the Big Apple as the safest big city in America. But blasts of gunfire in front of crowds near some of the city's best-known destinations this month painted a picture at odds with its tame, tourist friendly image.

Police confronted a knife-wielding man in Times Square and then shot him to death a few blocks away Aug. 11 as onlookers followed along and snapped photos. And on Friday, a gunman with a workplace grudge shot a former co-worker dead outside the Empire State Building – and then was killed himself by police in a burst of bullets that left at least nine bystanders wounded, some apparently by police rounds.

"I thought it's impossible for something like this to happen here," Julien Berthoud said after his parents, visiting from Switzerland, ran from the gunshots and then returned a few minutes later to see victims lying on the ground, some of them bleeding, as onlookers wept and frantically called 911.

The recent shootings might not leave a lasting mark on the public's view of New York, which has seen its appeal to tourists endure terrorism. Only one of the injured bystanders was from out of town. Still, Friday's violence spurred officials to assure visitors they were safe, even as it spotlighted the difficult task police face in confronting threats at thronged landmarks where some onlookers are more inclined to record the danger than to run from it.

Tourist Linda Signorini, for one, isn't fazed. The customer service worker from Melbourne, Australia, headed to the Empire State Building on Friday evening with her husband, Con, and their 27-year-old daughter, Erica.

They'd been startled by the news of the shooting that morning, but it didn't change their outlook on the city, Linda Signorini said. Noting the number of police officers they had seen on the streets, "we felt pretty safe," she said.

That's exactly the message city officials have strived to send for the past two decades, making aggressive efforts to combat crime, to turn once-seedy Times Square into a G-rated entertainment district – and to cast tourism as an economic-development priority.

More than 50 million visitors came to the city last year, a record. Mayor Michael Bloomberg's office says tourism will contribute $45 billion in direct spending to the city and add 30,000 new jobs to its workforce by 2015.

Asked what he would say to tourists who might be concerned about Friday's shooting near the iconic skyscraper, Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly reiterated that New York is America's safest big city. The oft-invoked description is based on FBI crime statistics for the nation's 25 most populous cities. The data comprise a total of seven major crimes, including murder, rape and robbery; New York has the lowest rate per 100,000 residents.

"Over the last few decades, the strides that the city has made have been significant in increasing its appeal" to tourists, and the recent shootings aren't likely to change that, said Anna Maria Bounds, a Queens College sociologist who researches urban tourism.

As for city residents, "in general, New Yorkers are resilient," said Dr. Charles Marmar, the chairman of NYU Langone Medical Center's Psychiatry Department, which conducts research on post-traumatic stress and dispatched clinicians to meet with people wounded in Friday's gunfire.

Just days before Friday's mayhem, police said a street vendor shot two men outside storied Yankee Stadium in broad daylight in what witnesses described as a dispute over sales space. It joined a list of violent incidents at New York landmarks in recent years.

A terrorist tried to detonate a car bomb in Times Square in 2010, coming close enough to succeeding that a vendor spotted smoke coming from the SUV and alerted police. City officials have said other terror plots against the city's subways, transit facilities and landmarks have been thwarted since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

And the Empire State Building itself became the site of bloodshed in 1997, when a gunman killed a tourist, wounded six others and killed himself on the 86th-floor observation deck.

The tower remained open throughout the chaos outside Friday, and the owner stressed that Friday's shooting "had nothing to do with the Empire State Building."

The gunman, Jeffrey Johnson, shot a clothing company vice president he blamed for his layoff last year, police said. The victim, Steven Ercolino, was heading to work at the company's office across the street from the building.

Surveillance video shows Johnson pointed a gun at police; investigators believe he didn't fire. Two officers fired a total of 16 shots, and some of them were likely the stray bullets that hit bystanders as gunfire ricocheted off planters, investigators said.

"Talk about the ultimate complexity for a police officer or a security officer to have to face – he's being shot at, or he's being threatened, and understands that his ability to hit a target shooting at him or coming at him (is limited), that he may hit somebody else," said William J. Bratton, who headed the New York and Los Angeles police departments before becoming chairman of Kroll, a private security firm.

To stop someone armed with deadly force, police are trained to shoot at the person's torso so as to have the greatest chance of hitting their target in a stressful, fluid situation – and even so, most shots miss, said Bratton, who was a Boston police sergeant when he found himself facing a bank robber who had a gun to a teller's head in front of onlookers in 1975.

"There was no way I could chance shooting at him without potentially killing her or missing him and shooting someone else in the crowd," Bratton recalled, so he lowered his weapon and asked the gunman to do the same. That worked.

But the New York officers involved in Friday's shooting might not have had the same option, Bratton said by phone.

About an hour after the gunfire, Louie Echave and his girlfriend, Jennifer Maurer, went to visit the Empire State Building, unaware of the situation that had unfolded. It didn't change the itinerary of the residents of Zurich, Switzerland, or their perception of the city.

"I still say it's pretty safe," Echave said later Friday. "You can't say, in general, that New York isn't really safe because one person did something."

Added Maurer: "People go crazy everywhere."

___

Associated Press writers Samantha Gross, Alex Katz and Larry Neumeister contributed to this report.

___

Related on HuffPost:

Loading Slideshow...
  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly speaks near the Empire State Building following a shooting, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. Police say a recently laid-off worker shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper and then randomly opened fired on people nearby before firing on police. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)

  • This photo posted to an Instagram account belonging to a person identified as paulnshapiro, an eyewitness at the scene, shows a victim of a shooting, with police standing by, outside the Empire State Building in New York, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The identity or condition of the victim was not immediately known. A disgruntled laid-off women's accessories designer shot a former co-worker to death in front of the Empire State Building, causing a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks. Police killed the suspect and at least nine others were wounded, some possibly by police gunfire, city officials said. The shooting happened at about 9 a.m. Friday at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. (AP Photo/paulnshapiro via Instagram)

  • An official inspects evidence near the Empire State Building in New York following a shooting Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. Police say a recently laid-off worker shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper, then randomly opened fire on people nearby before firing on police. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Michael Bloomberg

    New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg talks to the media near the Empire State Building following a shooting, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. Police say a recently laid-off worker shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper and then randomly opened fired on people nearby before firing on police. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Officials examine a body near the Empire State Building following a shooting, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. Police say a recently laid-off worker shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper and then randomly opened fired on people nearby before firing on police. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • An unidentified woman is treated by emergency medical technicians inside an ambulance following a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least four people were shot on Friday morning and the gunman was dead, New York City officials said. A witness said the gunman was firing indiscriminately. Police said as many as 10 people were injured, but it is unclear how many were hit by bullets. A law enforcement official said the shooting was related to a workplace dispute. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • This photo posted to an Instagram account belonging to a person identified as mr_mookie, an eyewitness at the scene, shows a victim of a shooting being tended to by pedestrians outside the Empire State Building in New York, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. The identity or condition of the victim was not immediately known. Law enforcement officials in New York City say at least four people have been shot outside the Empire State Building in violence that stemmed from a workplace dispute, and that the gunman has been killed by police. The shooting happened at about 9 a.m. Friday at 34th Street and Fifth Avenue. (AP Photo/mr_mookie via Instagram)

  • Bystanders and a police officer stand on Fifth Avenue to view the scene after a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least four people were shot on Friday morning and the gunman was dead, New York City officials said. A witness said the gunman was firing indiscriminately. Police said as many as 10 people were injured, but it is unclear how many were hit by bullets. A law enforcement official said the shooting was related to a workplace dispute. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • Rebecca Cox

    Rebecca Cox talks to media while recounting what she saw immediately following a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least four people were shot on Friday morning and the gunman was dead, New York City officials said. A witness said the gunman was firing indiscriminately. Police said as many as 10 people were injured, but it is unclear how many were hit by bullets. A law enforcement official said the shooting was related to a workplace dispute. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

  • In this photo made with a cell phone, officials examine the body of gunman Jeffrey Johnson, who was killed by police gunfire after he fatally shot Steven Ercolino, an executive at his former company, outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least nine bystanders were hit by gunfire in the confrontation. (AP Photo/Lee Weinstein)

  • New York City police stand near the body of shooting victim Steven Ercolino, 41, on a sidewalk near the Empire State Building in New York, Friday Aug. 24, 2012. According to city officials, Ercolino, a vice president of sales for Hazan Imports, was fatally shot by Jeffrey Johnson, 58, a woman's accessories designer whom Ercolino had laid off, outside the Empire State Building setting off a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks. Police officers killed the gunman and at least nine others were wounded, some by stray police gunfire, authorities said. (AP Photo/Daniel Stevens/humanelectricblog.tumblr.com)

  • This cell phone photo taken by Brendan Gunn, shows the body of shooting victim Steven Ercolino, 41, in New York, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. According to city officials, Ercolino, a vice president of sales for Hazan Imports, was fatally shot by Jeffrey Johnson, 58, a woman's accessories designer whom Ercolino had laid off, outside the Empire State Building setting off a chaotic showdown with police in front of one of the world's best-known landmarks. Police officers killed the gunman and at least nine others were wounded, some by stray police gunfire, authorities said. (AP Photo/Brendan Gunn)

  • Evidence lies on the street near the Empire State Building in New York following a shooting Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. Police say a recently laid-off worker shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper, then randomly opened fire on people nearby before firing on police. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • Mark Hanrahan

  • New York City police approach the lifeless body of Jeffrey Johnson lying on a sidewalk near the Empire State Building in New York following a shooting Friday, Aug. 24, 2012. Police say 58-year-old Johnson, who was laid off from a nearby shop in 2011, shot a former colleague to death near the iconic skyscraper, then randomly opened fire on people nearby before firing on police. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said some of the victims may have been hit by police bullets as police and the gunman exchanged fire. (AP Photo/Guillermo Ratzlaff)

  • Police surround a sheet covered body, lowser left, on a Fifth Avenue sidewalk as they investigate a multiple shooting outside the Empire State Building, Friday, Aug. 24, 2012, in New York. At least four people were shot on Friday morning and the gunman was dead, New York City officials said. A witness said the gunman was firing indiscriminately. Police said as many as 10 people were injured, but it is unclear how many were hit by bullets. A law enforcement official said the shooting was related to a workplace dispute. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)