‘Domestic terror event’ — Jersey City killers posted about Jews and cops
JERSEY CITY — State officials Thursday for the first time said Tuesday's massacre at a Jewish supermarket, and the death of a police officer at the hands of the same shooters just before it, were likely an act of domestic terrorism aimed at police and Jews.
"At this point, I agree with Attorney General (Gurbir) Grewal. This is going to be investigated going forward ... as a domestic terror event," U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey Craig Carpenito said at a press conference led by the attorney general. He said the FBI will lead the investigation.
Grewal and other state officials — including Gov. Phil Murphy — had initially urged caution against assuming the attacks with motivated by anti-Semitism in the days since the attacks, though Jersey City's and New York's mayors had both said they believed that was the case. Instead, the state officials had said, they were still working to determine motive.
For the first time, state officials acknowledged they were aware of social media posts that appeared to be by the shooters, espousing hate against Jews and police. They also acknowledged reports by several media outlets, attributing unnamed law enforcement, tying the shooters to the Black Hebrew Israelites movement — a group described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, and not accepted as Jewish by mainstream Jewish movements. Black Hebrew Israelite groups also reject mainstream groups as truly Jewish.
Grewal said there was evidence the shooters "expressed interest in the group," but no so far no formal links between the shooters and the movement had been established.
"The evidence points towards acts of hate," Grewal said. "We are investigating as potential domestic terrorism."
Among those killed Tuesday in Jersey City was Officer Joseph Seals, shot in a cemetery during an encounter with ex-con David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, according to Jersey City police and state authorities. Both shooters were killed Tuesday afternoon in a shootout with police at the JC Kosher Supermarket, where three other people — two of them religious Jews — were found shot dead.
Surveillance footage appears to show the killers slowly driving up to the supermarket and specifically targeting it, approaching with long guns. Grewal said Thursday Mindy Ferencz, 31, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49 and Moshe Deutsch, 24 were killed almost immediately after the incident began. After that, he said, the shooters appeared to concentrate their fire on responding police, and not others on the street.
"They were clearly targeting that store and the law enforcement, but we don't know why," Carpenito said.
Grewal described several weapons found at the scene, as well as explosives found in a stolen U-Haul van at the site. He acknowledge a note was found in the van, but answering a reporter's question, said he wouldn't repeat a description by some media of the note as a "manifesto."
The New York Post, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported Thursday the note said “I do this because my creator makes me do this and I hate who he hates."
The weapons recovered inside the store included an "AR-style weapon" fired by David Anderson as he entered the store, Grewal said. A Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun believed to be carried by Francine Graham as she entered the store was recovered as well, he said. Authorities recovered another two pistols in the store, Grewal said. said.
Inside the U-haul, he said, authorities found a a .22 Ruger Mark 4 with a homemade silencer and a homemade device to catch shell casings.
Hundreds of shell casings were recovered at the scene, Grewal said.
Using serial number, the Mossberg and the Mark 4 were traced to a purchase by Graham at separate gun shops in Ohio in spring 2018, Grewal said.
He additionally said efforts were ongoing to encourage interfaith dialogue and help religious groups protect themselves.
But the officials gathered Thursday said they believed Anderson and Graham acted alone, and there was no known continuing threat.
"I want to ensure the entire Jersey community that law enforcement believes this heinous event is over," and that the individuals responsible are deceased, Hudson County Prosecutor Esther Suarez said.
They offered no new information on an announcement earlier this week that the shooters have also been tied to another homicide, that of a man found in trunk in Bayonne.
Carpenito said multiple agencies are "working jointly" to determine if there are other ties between that killing and those in Jersey City "other than the fact that the suspects are the same." Law enforcement officials haven't said how Anderson and Graham were identified as suspects in the Bayonne death, or what they believe motivated that killing.
Grewal and other officials gathered Thursday continued to urge caution against making assumptions based on a trickle of information coming from multiple sources, many of them anonymous. Carpenito said that was "no way" for the victims' families to learn about new information.
"We are all grieving, but none moreso than the families of the victims," Grewal said.
In a joint statement released after the attorney general's press conference, Murphy, Senate President Steve Sweeney and Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin condemned the shootings and hate-fueled terror.
"This is also proof that the holes in our nation’s gun laws are failing our communities. We cannot wait until another domestic terrorist, filled with hate and bent on murder, gets their hands on a weapon, period. The time for Congress and our state to finish its job is now, and I commit to take every step possible to keep our residents safe," Murphy said.
— With reporting by Louis C. Hochman and Dan Alexander. With previous reporting by Sergio Bichao
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