Shootout in Jersey City
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Shootout in Jersey City

Six dead in rampage, including detective, two murderers; anti-Semitism investigated as possible motive

The scene near the shootout between two gunmen and police at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City. (Josefin Dolsten/JTA)
The scene near the shootout between two gunmen and police at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City. (Josefin Dolsten/JTA)

The gunmen who entered a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, killed three people there, and wounded two police officers deliberately chose that store, the city’s mayor said.

Before they stormed the JC Kosher supermarket, the murderers killed another police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, shooting him in the head in nearby Bayview Cemetery.

At first, officials believed that the store was chosen at random, but that has changed as more information has been uncovered, in what is expected to be long-term investigation.

A law enforcement official said that one of the suspects had posted both anti-Semitic and anti-police screeds online; although they are investigating the shooters’ motives, officials believe that the attack was motivated by the hatred those posts display.

“Investigators also found a manifesto-style note inside the shooters’ van, the law enforcement official and another official familiar with the case said,” according to the New York Times on Wednesday; but the manifesto did not provide clear motive for the attack.

They also found a live pipe bomb in the van, the official added.

WNBC-TV in New York reported on Wednesday that the shooters were David Anderson and Francine Graham. Anderson was once a follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, sources told WNBC. Members of the community believe they are descendants of the tribe of Judah. Various groups vary widely in their connection to Judaism and Christianity. They are perhaps most well known for preaching — some might call it hurling loud insults — in Times Square. Often those insults are anti-Semitic.

Online postings connected to Anderson’s social media accounts contained anti-Semitic material. Investigators could not yet confirm if Anderson wrote the material himself.

“Based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked,” Jersey City’s mayor, Steven Fulop, wrote in a Twitter post on Tuesday night. “Due to an excess of caution the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead. We have no indication there are any further threats.”

The mayor’s tweet came hours after a news conference at which officials said there was “no indication of terrorism” or a hate crime.

At a press conference on Wednesday morning, Mr. Fulop said that “we do feel comfortable that it was a targeted attack on the Jewish kosher deli.”

The director of Jersey City’s Department of Public Safety, James Shea, said at the press conference that although the store was a target, authorities are not calling the crime anti-Semitism, because they do not know why it was targeted. “The motives are still part of the investigation,” Mr. Shea said.

At the press conference, Mr. Fulop described what he saw on the surveillance video. “We could see the van moving through Jersey City streets slowly,” he said. “The perpetrator stopped in front of there, calmly opened the door with two long rifles — him and the other perpetrator — and began firing from the street into the facility.”

Mr. Shea said, “We now know this did not begin with gunfire between police officers and the perpetrators and then moved to the store. It began with an attack on the civilians in the store.

“That was their target, and they intended to harm people inside there.”

Two police officers happened to be nearby, and had they not responded immediately, more people could have died, Mr. Fulop said.

The six victims included a police officer, Detective Joseph Seals, and three civilians; after they were shot, there was an hours-long siege and shootout at the supermarket. The officer had been shot earlier at a nearby cemetery trying to head off two suspects in a homicide. Those two gunmen were killed in the supermarket shootout.

On Wednesday morning, in a tweet before the press conference, Mr. Fulop wrote that “Last night after extensive review of our CCTV system it has now become clear from the cameras that these two individuals targeted the Kosher grocery location on MLK Dr.”

He added in a second tweet: “I’m Jewish and proud to live in a community like #JerseyCity that has always welcomed everyone. It is the home of #EllisIsland and has always been the golden door to America. Hate and anti-Semitism have never had a place here in JC and will never have a place in our city.”

On Tuesday morning, officials say, Mr. Seals went over to a man and a woman who were inside a U-Haul van that was linked, in some as-yet-unspecified way, to a homicide the weekend before. Video shows the suspects shooting him and then driving away.

Mr. Seals was married and the father of five children. He was a 15-year veteran of the Jersey City police force, lived in North Arlington, and was promoted to detective in 2015. The Times reported that his neighbor, Joe Buocolo, a retired police officer, said that he wasn’t surprised that Mr. Seals had lost his life by confronting his assailants. “He’s that kind of guy,” Mr. Buocolo said, according to the Times. “I’m not surprised he ran toward danger. I don’t think he’d back down from anything, to be honest with you.”

The two injured police officers are Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez.

Chabad.org identified two of the murdered civilians as Leah Minda Ferencz, 33, who owned the store in the Greenville neighborhood with her husband, Moshe, and Moshe Deutsch, 24. The third was Miguel Jason Rodriguez, a recent immigrant from Ecuador.

Moshe Ferencz had left the store moments before the shooting to pray the afternoon Mincha service at the synagogue located next door, according to the report.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio announced late Tuesday that following the shootout right across the Hudson, the New York Police Department would go on high alert.

“Although there is no credible or specific threat directed against New York City, I have directed the NYPD to assume a state of high alert. Tonight, NYPD assets are being redeployed to protect key locations in the Jewish community,” he tweeted.

He added: “History teaches us how dangerous it is to ignore this kind of hateful pattern. We must stop anti-Semitism aggressively and decisively, and I call upon all New Yorkers to join in rooting out this threat.”

On Tuesday evening, hours after the murderous rampage ended, there were more questions than answers in the neighborhood where it happened.

The crime scene was cordoned off, keeping onlookers far from it. Some two dozen local residents, several reporters, and many more police vehicles lingered outside the JC Kosher Supermarket on Martin Luther King Drive, on the western side of Jersey City. Some of the residents took video or livestreamed the scene on Facebook.

It was an ordeal that disturbed the heart of a small Orthodox Jewish community of nearly 100 families, most of whom had moved from the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, over the past few years.

According to locals, the JC supermarket is the only kosher one of its kind in the area. It sells basic groceries, sandwiches, and salads. Next door is Khal Adas Greenville, a building with a synagogue on a lower level and a yeshiva for children on the upper level.

“It’s a beautiful tight-knit community, very kind people, and it’s devastating that something like this happened,” said Rabbi Shmully Levitin, a Chabad rabbi who lives in Jersey CIty.

Officials have not released any specific information about the suspects or the civilian victims, but Rabbi Levitin says he spoke with someone who was wounded in the shooting but escaped through the back of the store. The witness told Rabbi Levitin that he saw the cashier — the wife of the store’s owner — fall down injured. He saw another customer also sustain serious injuries.

Chesky Deutsch has two children who attend the yeshiva next door.

“For the first few minutes, we didn’t know information about the school. Worried is an understatement,” he said about the moment he heard about the shooting. “My initial thought was, right away, is the community as a whole under some sort of attack? That was my initial fear.”

Greenville has a large African American population; now they are being joined by chasidim, many of them Satmar. The neighborhood’s very mixed now; there is a Catholic elementary school, Sacred Heart, right across the street from JC Kosher Supermarket. The students there, like all the other students in neighboring schools, were put on lockdown, and not released until after the shootout and standoff ended.

Mr. Deutsch, who moved from Williamsburg to Greenville because Jersey City is a less expensive place to live, says there is no tension between the relative newcomers in the Jewish community and its neighbors that would lead to suspicion.

“We get along very well with our neighbors,” he said. “Thank God there was no incident whatsoever in the past.”

Josefin Dolsten and Marcy Oster of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency contributed to this report.

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