HARRISBURG – Gunfire erupted in three sections of the city Friday, bringing in heavily-armed officers, troopers and FBI agents to stop the man who appears to have been targeting the police.
While many questions remain about 51-year-old Ahmed Aminamin El-Mofty, the city seems to have returned to normal the day after investigators say he opened fire on police officers.
The shooting started around 4:10 p.m. Friday in the area of Third and Walnut streets near the state Capitol and Strawberry Square. That’s where police say El-Mofty fired several shots at a police car belonging to the Capitol Police and came “very close” to hitting the officer.
At the scene on Saturday, though, a marching band blasted out brass versions of Christmas carols as shoppers dashed in and out of Strawberry Square, picking up their last minute gifts. You wouldn’t know someone had opened fire on the police not even 24 hours before, but it’s something Haley Baker will never forget.
She’s home from college and was working for the holiday at one of the shops in Strawberry Square. Her parents had just picked her up from work, and as they were driving on Third and Walnut, they heard gunfire.
“A car came from the direction that we heard the gunshots and almost T-boned our car,” she said.
They swerved to get out of the way, but her parents managed to write down the license-plate number of the fleeing car and turn it over to police.
“It was definitely scary,” she said. “You always hear about this stuff on the news but you never experience it firsthand.”
Robert Ros works at the Verizon store just inside the Walnut Street doors of Strawberry Square, and said he was sitting on a bench, talking to a friend, when he saw a police car whipping by and heading to the Capitol.
“He did the hardest U-Turn I’ve ever seen,” he said. “It was crazy.”
He didn’t know what was happening, but soon, Strawberry Square security came in and told him they were closing down the shops.
“Being so close to Strawberry Square, and the Capitol building is right there, that’s something you don’t see every day,” he said.
About a half hour after the first shooting, authorities say El-Mofty was confronted by the Pennsylvania State Police at Fifth and Strawberry streets. That’s where he opened fire and shot a state trooper.
Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said last night that the injured trooper is doing well, and she is expected to make a full recovery.
Police chased El-Mofty to 17th and Mulberry streets, where they say he opened fire with two handguns before he was killed by officers returning fire. He was found with a “device” that Marsico said ended up being “of no import.”
That confrontation happened near Piccolo’s Cafe where bartender Samantha Edwards was working. She didn’t see the actual shooting from inside the small, dimly-lit bar, but she heard the sirens and the gunshots.
And when she looked outside, “I saw police officers with big guns, and even the FBI was out here.”
“It was very scary,” she said as she darted between customers, serving up drinks.
One customer, who would not give her name, said the police came inside after the shooting and told everyone they had to go.
It was the topic of conversation among those sitting at the bar. What was the device? Was it terrorism? Was it suicide-by-cop?
More answers will likely come as the investigation unfolds.
But another witness at a neighboring business, who would not share his or the business’s name, said he had a clear view of the police with their AR-15s.
“I ducked down for cover,” he said.
Yet another witness, who would only give his name as “Ron,” said he heard the shooting outside and saw the flashing lights, but he wasn’t frightened as he watched.
“God is with me,” he said.
But who is El-Mofty and what led to the shooting?
Investigators say he had spent time in both Dauphin and Cumberland counties and had recently been to the Middle East. A neighbor of one of his listed properties in Camp Hill told PennLive immigration authorities had previously raided a property possibly connected to him.
The case remains under investigation.