NEW YORK — At least one suspect involved in the shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City on Tuesday afternoon had posted anti-Semitic content online, a law enforcement official familiar with the case told the New York Times.
Jersey City Mayor Steve Fulop confirmed on Wednesday morning that the JC Kosher Supermarket, which was the scene of a shootout that killed five people, including three bystanders and the two shooters, was the intended target of the assailants. A policeman had been shot by the suspects at a local cemetery prior to the store attack.
“After extensive review of our CCTV system it has now become clear from the cameras that these two individuals targeted the Kosher grocery,” he wrote on Twitter.
Fulop added that although there are no indications of further threats, “due to an excess of caution the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead.”
The revelation came despite earlier statements, including by Jersey City’s public safety director James Shea, that the incident did not appear to be a hate crime or motivated by terrorism.
The victims at the store were identified Wednesday as Moshe Deutsch, 24, who was shopping at the store; Leah Mindel Ferencz, 33, a co-owner of the store; and Douglas Miguel Rodríguez, 49, who worked at the store.
The Israeli Embassy in the United States sent its condolences to the families of the victims via Twitter, and was the first to condemn the attack as “anti-Semitic.”
A member of Hatzolah, Moshe Schwartz, who has been a volunteer with the Jewish EMS corps for 18 years, told Haaretz that Tuesday’s scene was horrific and comparable to a “9/11 of Jersey City.”
“I never in my life witnessed something like that, and I hope I’m not going to ever have to witness something like this,” he said.
“Yesterday was a very big tragedy for the whole Jewish community in the world, and especially for the Jersey City community,” Schwartz said. “This was not a regular shooting; they call this a war zone.”
The volunteer added that he saw “at least 500 bullets” at the scene.
Speaking at a press conference with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, Rabbi David Niederman — who serves as the president and executive director of the United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg — said Ferencz was “a lady full of love for others,” and that Deutsch “studied and found time to help his peers from yeshiva and other kids.” According to Niederman, the two were former Williamsburg residents.
The shooters, who were killed at the scene, were identified as David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50.
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A report in the New York Post described the attackers as “a pair of religiously fanatical lovers who lived together inside a van,” and said they likely belonged to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement — a black supremacist group known to vilify white and Jewish people.
The report, which relied on records and interviews with neighbors, noted that Anderson spent time in prison for possession of an illegal weapon and domestic violence. It added that the two suspects were often heard loudly “chanting religious stuff” and left behind a note reading: “I do this because my creator makes me do this and I hate who he hates.”
The officer who died earlier Tuesday was identified as Detective Joe Seals, a married father of five who had been with the Jersey City force since 2006, Fulop told reporters.
“I’m Jewish and proud to live in a community like Jersey City that has always welcomed everyone,” Fulop tweeted. “It is the home of Ellis Island and has always been the golden door to America.
“Hate and anti-Semitism have never had a place here in Jersey City and will never have a place in our city,” he added.
Fulop also said the situation could have evolved into a much more tragic incident.
Dozens of bullet holes were clearly visible on surfaces inside the store, where the register had fallen over as well. Volunteers of the Jewish groups Hatzolah and Misaskim, which helped organize burials for the Jewish victims, are still working at the scene.
Next door to the supermarket is the entrance to a Chabad center and synagogue, where, according to local rabbis, some 57 students were studying Torah during the shooting.
Some community members expressed the fear that the assailants may have wanted to target the school as well.
“We are one of, if not the most, diverse states in America and Jersey City is one of the most diverse cities in America — and we celebrate that, that’s a source of strength,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said to the Jewish community members present. “One of the most important communities in that broad rainbow of communities is our Jewish brothers and sisters.”
“We are with you, in good times and in bad, and here’s hoping for many more good times than not,” he said.
“We’re not fair-weather friends, we’re not going to be here just because of what happened yesterday. We are here for you whether literally, spiritually in prayer or otherwise, day in and day out, and we will continue to be,” Murphy added.
Murphy also said the New Jersey authorities will “leave no stone unturned” in investigating the details of the incident.
Israel’s consul general in New York, Dani Dayan, visited the local police station to thank law enforcement officers who responded to the attack on Tuesday, offering his condolences for the loss of Seals.
“The only thing that somewhat encourages me is the response from the community and the authorities,” he told Haaretz at the station. “But that’s not enough. We can’t tolerate a situation in which every six months we have a pogrom with Jewish casualties.”
Although as an Israeli diplomat he has no authority over the localities in the United States, Dayan believes Israel has a “responsibility” to make local authorities aware of their duty to protect the Jewish community.
Dayan and Murphy then participated in a prayer service at the Chabad synagogue above the supermarket.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has formally launched a Democratic presidential bid, decried the attack, describing it as “part of a deeply disturbing pattern of violence against the Jewish community.
“We must do more than mourn,” he said in a statement, “We must stop violent extremism and adopt laws that make it harder for dangerous people to get their hands on guns.”
Also expressing its condolences, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement that the “new information indicates that [Tuesday’s] shooting was part of a targeted attack. We [are] deeply disturbed by these acts of violence and mourn the victims. Our team is on site to support the community and in contact with law enforcement on the investigation.”