When the tourists and shoppers thronging Times Square on Saturday afternoon first saw the police officers, guns drawn, confronting a knife-wielding man, many thought they had stumbled onto a movie set.
But it was quickly apparent this was no celluloid fantasy.
As the man fled, weaving through crowds and darting between cars, he threatened bystanders, witnesses said. The police gave chase, eventually cornering him near 37th Street and Seventh Avenue and killing him in a fusillade of bullets after, police officials said, he ignored orders to drop his weapon and lunged at officers.
Paul J. Browne, the chief police spokesman, said officers used pepper spray six times to try to halt the man, who repeatedly threatened officers with a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade.
“He continued to advance on uniformed officers, refusing officers’ repeated commands to drop his weapon,” Mr. Browne said.
“Two officers discharged their weapons at close quarters on Seventh Avenue between 37th and 38th Streets.”
The police did not immediately identify the 51-year-old man, who was pronounced dead at Bellevue Hospital Center.
“He was swinging at people as he ran,” said Jobby Nogver, 17, visiting from Boston. Mr. Nogver watched as about a dozen police officers finally surrounded the man and shots were fired. “I can’t tell you how many shots,” he said. “It was a lot.”
The police did not say on Saturday how many shots officers had fired.
The confrontation began shortly after 3 p.m. on the pedestrian plaza near the Hard Rock Cafe on 43rd Street and Seventh Avenue, in the heart of Times Square.
Lincoln Rocha, 28, and his wife, Priscilla Rocha, 28, visiting from Brazil, were walking toward Toys “R” Us when they saw three uniformed police officers talking to a man on the sidewalk. Mr. Browne said that two officers initially approached the man because he appeared to be smoking marijuana. When the officers tried to arrest the man, he stuck a marijuana cigarette in his pocket, raised the knife over his head and started to put on a blue bandanna.
“Right when he pulled the knife, the cops drew their guns,” Mr. Rocha said. The man was cursing the police, he said, and the officers kept yelling at him to drop the weapon.
Then, the man fled, at first zigzagging around the plaza and then running south on Seventh Avenue. At times, witnesses said, he appeared to be skipping backward down the center of the avenue, which the police had closed to traffic. A group of officers followed, they said, weapons at the ready.
One witness, Brielle Basso, 19, said, “Once we saw what was happening, we just started running.”
By this time, there were dozens of officers in pursuit, both on foot and in police cars and vans.
Jeffrey Gibson, 39, watched the chase unfold. Each time an officer got close, he said, the man would swing his knife. The man dodged each vehicle that tried to block his path.
Karon Rakes, 43, from Cleveland, said the man was taunting the police.
“He just started saying, ‘Come on, come get me,’ ” she said.
Mrs. Rocha said that when people realized the police had their guns drawn, they fled, crouching in doorways, behind newsstands and near parked cars.
“I almost had a heart attack,” she said. “Everyone started running.”
Out-of-towners on a red double-decker tourist bus gawked at the unfolding drama, a bit more of the New York experience than they had bargained for. Nervous onlookers peered out from restaurant and shop windows, the flashing lights of Times Square lending a bizarre atmosphere, which grew even wilder as a crowd gathered, attracted by the commotion.
Times Square, known as the Crossroads of the World, is no stranger to odd scenes. But the chase Saturday was unlike anything in recent memory.
As the police pursued the man, pointing pistols with double-handed grips, they were trailed by dozens of people with cameras and cellphones held above their heads, Mr. Rocha among them.
“Some people were crouching near an office building,” Mr. Rocha said. “But others took out the cellphone cameras to try and capture it.”
As the man ran, police stretched yellow crime-scene tape across the corner of 37th Street and Seventh Avenue, hoping to create a roadblock, Mr. Nogver said.
At this point, the police began trying to clear away civilians. Mr. Nogver said that he saw about a dozen police officers cornering the man on the sidewalk near the Potbelly Sandwich Shop at 37th and Seventh.
He could not clearly see the man, and the next thing he heard were gunshots.
While the police released no details about the victim, some of those who work in Times Square said they had seen him before. Joshua, 23, who sells tickets to comedy shows, said that he thought the man was a regular in the area who often wore a T-shirt that said “Ninjas killed my family” and asked tourists for money.
Joshua, who declined to give his last name, also said that the man would often dress as a ninja.
Dave Basso, 41, of Cleveland, said he thought the police had no choice but to shoot the man.
“He was either going to get shot or he was going to take someone hostage,” he said.