Authorities were looking for Kurt Meyers, said Joseph Malone, the police chief for Herkimer and Mohawk. A college and schools were locked down and people were being told to stay indoors as Meyers remained at large Wednesday afternoon.
Guns and ammunition were found inside Meyers' Mohawk apartment after emergency crews were sent to put out a fire there Wednesday morning.
Soon after, two people were fatally shot and two others wounded at John's Barber Shop, around the corner from the apartment, police said. The second shooting happened about a mile away in Herkimer, where two people were killed at Gaffey's Fast Lube and Car Wash, authorities said.
The two villages are about 65 miles east of Syracuse, on opposite sides of the Mohawk River in a region known as the Mohawk Valley.
James Baron, the 29-year-old mayor of Mohawk, said he doesn't know Meyers but knew several of the people who were shot, including "at least" two of the barbershop victims. The mayor described his village as close-knit and friendly, "the kind of place where you'd say, 'Oh, it would never happen here.'"
The fire at Meyers' building was reported at about 9:30 a.m., followed soon after by reports of shootings in the two villages, Baron said.
Late Wednesday morning, police SWAT teams and a helicopter converged on a jewelry store in Herkimer.
The Utica Observer-Dispatch reported that police were focusing on Freddy's Jewelers on Main Street, near the car wash and oil change business. The newspaper reported that officials in Mohawk, however, seemed to think the suspect was still on foot somewhere. Other reports suggested he may have been picked up by a taxi.
Herkimer County Community College and local schools were on lockdown. The college sent an automated cellphone alert around 10:40 a.m., telling students and staff that there was an "active shooter" in the area. The message identified the gunman as a man in his 60s, with a white beard and driving a red Jeep Cherokee. A text alert a few minutes later said the campus was on lockdown. Another alert advised people to remain inside buildings until further notice.
Amanda Viscomi, Herkimer's acting clerk-treasurer for the village of 7,700, told The Associated Press the shooting at Gaffey's happened a few blocks from village hall. She said she was told the shooter was at large and that state police, sheriff's deputies and other police were swarming the area.
"Everybody's on lockdown, all the schools, the college, the village," Viscomi said. "It's very, very scary."
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the head of the state police were on their way to the area and were expected to brief the media later in the day.
Herkimer is named for the German immigrant family that settled in the western Mohawk Valley in the 1720s. The economically distressed villages are two miles away from Ilion, where a 2-century-old Remington Arms gun plant is a major employer.