"Coward" is what loved ones are calling the killer who gunned down a 34-year-old Reading man on New Year's Day.

"People who take other people's life, other than God, are cowards," said a friend of the victim, who did not want to reveal her identity for fear of retaliation.

Najeeb Johnson lost his life early Tuesday morning, just as the city was ringing in the new year, police said.

Johnson, 34, was in an SUV with two other men, who stopped in the 900 block of Amity Street to reportedly ask a stranger for directions to a bar, police said.

That stranger pulled out a gun and fired at Johnson and the other two men in the SUV, investigators said.

Johnson and the other men fled for their lives, but only made it a few blocks before their SUV crashed into a fence in front of Elia Auto Body near North 9th and Exeter streets.

Johnson was found dead at the scene; the two other men in the SUV were hospitalized and are expected to recover.

Loved ones said they are outraged.

"Things happen for a reason, I always say," said Najeeb's close friend of more than a decade. "But why in the hand of a coward? Why? It's just sad."

What makes the homicide so painful, friends said, is that Najeeb had a good heart and had volunteered for Toys for Tots for almost a decade.

If you know anything about the person behind this deadly shooting, call Crime Alert Berks County at 877-373-9913. Anonymous tips that lead to an arrest could be worth up to $10,000.