CHICAGO ­- In the first hours of a daylong standoff between police and a man who eventually fatally shot his hostage before killing himself, neighbors holed up in their apartments across the hall heard him screaming and threatening to shoot 22-year-old Tasha Cooks if police didn’t keep their distance, witnesses said.

Shirley Lanier, 39, who lives on the third floor of the apartment building, said she was awakened around 1 a.m. Thursday by gunfire inside her building.

Police later said that Lance Johnson, who lived downstairs, on the second floor, was shooting at the family across the hall from her as they fled after he tried to force his way into their apartment early on Thanksgiving. He had been complaining about a noisy child in the family’s apartment, police said.

“I got up and opened my back door and I saw (Johnson) shooting at people going down the stairs,” Lanier said.

In the panicked moments that followed, Johnson, 21, who police believe may have been mentally ill, turned his gun on Cooks, forcing his way into her apartment by the time police arrived.

“He was shooting at them out the window,” Lanier said. Later, she said, she heard Cooks crying out, and Johnson yelling at Cooks to tell the police to cut off a spotlight aimed at the apartment or he would kill her.

“She was begging for her life,” Lanier said. “He told her to tell the cops to “shut the (expletive) spotlight off or he was going to shoot her (expletive) head off’ . . . He was yelling, “I’m God, I’m (expletive) God. I’m not afraid to die. I got the gun.”‘

Police sources confirmed that Johnson threatened violence throughout the standoff, which ended when a police SWAT team stormed the apartment at about 1 a.m. Friday.

Cooks, who worked in a nursing home, was shot and killed by Johnson before he turned the gun on himself, police said.

The two knew each other from around the building.

Cooks’ family members were grief-stricken Friday after spending Thanksgiving waiting in fear for the standoff to end.

“She was open and kind-hearted and a beautiful person,” said her brother, Donzell McKinzie, 23. “She really liked to read and to dance. No way should someone have broken into her house, got her family all mixed up in this.”

Johnson had been arrested numerous times in the last several years. He was convicted of gun possession charges in 2002 and 2003, according to court records. He was sentenced to probation in both cases, and served 60 days in Cook County j Jail on one of the cases and 6 months in jail on the other, according to court records.

First Deputy Supt. Dana Starks said police were reviewing their communications with Johnson to determine whether he was suffering from mental illness. Court records in his 2002 gun possession case showed that the court ordered a mental health examination. The outcome of the exam could not be determined Friday, a representative for the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said.

Police also were continuing to investigate the standoff, said police spokeswoman Monique Bond, adding that SWAT negotiators followed protocols intended to end the crisis peacefully.

Nancy Klaric, the building manager, said Cooks moved into the building in February, and Johnson had moved in three months ago.

He “was really calm and the quiet type,” Klaric said. “If anything, he was too quiet.”

Yet about a month ago, Klaric said, Johnson would repeatedly go up to the third-floor apartment above his and pound on the door, complaining that his upstairs neighbors were being too loud.

Lanier said she suspected there was something wrong when she saw Johnson earlier Wednesday.

“Me and my boyfriend were coming back from the Dominick’s and we saw him with no coat on, no sweater, just standing outside,” she said. “I thought, is he high or crazy?”

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