NEW YORK (AP) â€” Police fanned out across New York City today in a search for two men who walked into a Wendy's restaurant at closing time and fatally shot five employees during an apparent robbery. Two other workers were wounded, one critically.
Police responding to a robbery call early today saw the wounded workers upstairs and broke through the locked glass door to help them, Chief of Detectives William Allee said at a news conference.
The other five were found in a basement walk-in refrigerator, their hands bound behind their backs and their mouths taped shut. All but one died at the restaurant in the Flushing section of Queens. The fifth died soon after arriving at a hospital.
``We believe the motive was robbery,'' Allee said, describing the suspects as two men ages 18 to 20.
The Wendy's is not far from Shea Stadium, home to baseball's New York Mets, and the USTA National Tennis Center, site of the U.S. Open tennis tournament.
Police said the gunmen entered the restaurant just before its scheduled closing time of 11 p.m. Wednesday. One of the survivors was able to call police about two hours later.
One of the survivors was in critical condition, Allee said. The other was in stable condition, said Paul Pickard, a spokesman for New York Hospital Medical Center.
The murder rate in New York City has risen 12.4 percent in the first three months of this year after plunging recently to levels not seen since the 1960s. There were 667 murders last year, a dramatic decline since the city's all-time high of 2,290 in 1990.
Shootings by police officers have grabbed recent headlines in New York and mass killings in the densely populated metropolis are relatively rare. In 1995, a man opened fire in a Bronx shoe store, killing five. Two weeks earlier, a gunman angered by an eviction dispute opened fire at a Harlem store before setting it ablaze. Seven people and the gunman died.
Near the Wendy's early today, Shahzad Ahmad, a cab driver who often works in the neighborhood, said the block is usually crowded with people and police at night.
``That's just unbelievable,'' he said. An employee at a 24-hour newsstand directly across the street from the restaurant said he didn't see or hear anything out of the ordinary.
The nation's deadliest shooting happened at a fast-food restaurant in 1984, when a man walked into a McDonald's in San Ysidro, Calif., and began shooting. He killed 21 people before he was shot by police.
Wendy's, the No. 3 fast-food chain after McDonald's and Burger King, is based in Dublin, Ohio. The chain has approximately 5,500 stores worldwide, 4,600 of them in the United States.