'Acts of hate': Officials say Jersey City shooters held animus toward Jews and cops

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Two men look on as members of Jersey City's Jewish community gather outside the J.C. Kosher Supermarket on Wednesday. Six people, including the suspects and a local police officer, died Tuesday in what officials called a "targeted attack."
Two men look on as members of Jersey City's Jewish community gather outside the J.C. Kosher Supermarket on Wednesday. Six people, including the suspects and a local police officer, died Tuesday in what officials called a "targeted attack."
Rick Loomis | Getty Images

Since a pair of shooters opened fire Tuesday in Jersey City, N.J., the state's attorney general, Gurbir Grewal, had been reluctant to label the assault on a local kosher market a specifically anti-Semitic act. As recent as Wednesday afternoon, even after identifying the suspects, Grewal said authorities were still not in a position to definitively assign a motive.

By Thursday, though, he was ready to say it.

"At this point, the evidence points towards acts of hate," the attorney general told reporters at a joint news conference with other law enforcement officials. "I can confirm that we're investigating this matter as potential acts of terrorism, fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs."

The announcement comes after two days of investigation into attacks that ultimately left six people dead — including three civilians, one police officer and the two shooters. Grewal said authorities reached their conclusion on the motives of David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, by interviewing eyewitnesses and identifying "a number of social media accounts that we believe were used by the suspects and purport to espouse certain viewpoints."

"The cowards that took down those innocent victims engage only the folks in that store and in the law enforcement community," said Craig Carpenito, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey, referring to closed-circuit TV footage of the attack. "You could see people walking by. They didn't engage anyone. They were clearly targeting that store. They were clearly targeting the Jersey City Police Department. We don't know why."

At the moment, officials believe the suspects were working alone. Investigators say the attackers subscribed to views consistent with the Black Hebrew Israelites — a black supremacist organization that has been associated with anti-Semitism — though Grewal says investigators have not yet established any formal links between the suspects and the group.

Five firearms were recovered from the scene of the attack — four of which were found inside the market and one inside the U-Haul van the shooters drove to the location. Grewal said one of the guns inside the store was an "AR-15-style weapon," referring to the controversial weapons that have been used in a number of massacres in recent years, including the shootings in Las Vegas and Newtown, Conn.

Gregory Ehrie, the FBI's special agent in charge in Newark, told reporters Wednesday that police officers had also discovered a viable pipe bomb that the shooters had left behind in their van.

"The FBI will ... continue to investigate this as a domestic terrorism incident with a hate crime bias slant to it," Ehrie said at the news conference Thursday. "We are pressing forward in collaboration with our local, state and federal partners to, again, try to understand the 'why' behind this."

Orthodox Jewish men carry Moshe Deutsch's casket outside a Brooklyn synagogue following his funeral Wednesday in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Deutsch was among three civilians killed in the shooting at a kosher market Tuesday in neighboring Jersey City, N.J.
Orthodox Jewish men carry Moshe Deutsch's casket outside a Brooklyn synagogue following his funeral Wednesday in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Deutsch was among three civilians killed in the shooting at a kosher market Tuesday in neighboring Jersey City, N.J.
Mark Lennihan/AP

As the investigation unfolds, members of the local Jewish community have struggled to grieve their lost friends and loved ones.

On Wednesday night, thousands of mourners turned out in the Williamsburg neighborhood of nearby Brooklyn, gathered for the funerals of Mindel Ferencz, who owned the market with her husband, and her cousin Moshe Deutsch — both of whom observed the Orthodox Jewish faith of Satmar Hasidim.

"Before, we felt more secured," Moshe Blumenberg, a teacher from Union City, N.J., told Fred Mogul of member station WNYC during the memorial. He said the shooting has compounded rampant anxieties about recent anti-Semitic violence.

"We have police, we have everything. Now we see the only one who can protect us is God," he added, "and it's very terrifying."

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks during a vigil Wednesday for the shooting victims in Jersey City, N.J. Earlier that day, Fulop, who is Jewish himself, made clear to reporters that he believed the attack on a kosher market was an anti-Semitic act: "There is no question that this is a hate crime."
Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop speaks during a vigil Wednesday for the shooting victims in Jersey City, N.J. Earlier that day, Fulop, who is Jewish himself, made clear to reporters that he believed the attack on a kosher market was an anti-Semitic act: "There is no question that this is a hate crime."
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

Natives of Jersey City have remarked on underlying frictions in the community between some longtime black residents and Jewish newcomers. The city has been coping with a recent population surge, part of which has been driven by an influx of ultra-Orthodox Jewish residents.

Plenty of longtime natives of Jersey City have complained of feeling pushed out; some Jewish residents, meanwhile, told WNYC's Arun Venugopal that they've found themselves on the receiving end of anti-Semitic insults or even violence.

Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop, who is Jewish himself, and who came out forcefully Wednesday with the declaration that "there is no question that this is a hate crime," expressed relief Thursday that Grewal had joined him in using similar language.

"I'm just glad that we're all here in the same place calling it what it is — that's the only thing that's important," he tweeted after Thursday's news conference. "We do a disservice to Judaism + ppl fighting against hate by not labeling this what it is."

As for Detective Joseph Seals, the Jersey City officer killed by the shooters at a separate location before they descended on the market, authorities have raised more than $275,000 for his family.

"Unfortunately, he leaves behind five children. We would anticipate the money would probably be used for education costs for these children growing up," said Steve Lenox, spokesman for Jersey City Police Officers Benevolent Association, one of the organizations behind the fundraising effort. "You know, they lost their hero father — they should want for nothing in coming years as they continue to grow up."

NPR's Jeff Brady contributed to this report.

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