5 stabbed at NY rabbi’s Hanukkah gath­er­ing

Sus­pect ar­raigned amid re­cent wave of vi­o­lence tar­get­ing Jews in re­gion

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Ryan Tarinelli and Michael R. Sisak

MON­SEY, N.Y. — A knife-wield­ing man stormed into a rabbi’s home and stabbed five peo­ple as they cel­e­brated Hanukkah in an Ortho­dox Jewish com­mu­nity north of New York City, an am­bush the gover­nor said Sun­day was an act of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism fu­eled by in­tol­er­ance and a “can­cer” of grow­ing ha­tred in Amer­ica.

Po­lice tracked a flee­ing sus­pect to Man­hat­tan and made an ar­rest within hours of the at­tack in Mon­sey. Grafton E. Thomas had blood all over his cloth­ing and smelled of bleach when of­ficers stopped him, prose­cu­tors said.

Thomas, 37, was ar­raigned Sun­day and pleaded not guilty to five counts of at­tempted mur­der and one count of bur­glary. Bail was set at $5 mil­lion and he re­mains jailed.

Thomas’ crim­i­nal his­tory in­cludes an ar­rest for as­sault­ing a

po­lice horse, ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial briefed on the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A lawyer rep­re­sent­ing Thomas at the ar­raign­ment said he had no con­vic­tions.

The FBI is seek­ing a war­rant to ob­tain his on­line ac­counts and were scour­ing dig­i­tal ev­i­dence, the of­fi­cial said. They are also look­ing into whether he has a his­tory of men­tal ill­ness.

The of­fi­cial was not au­tho­rized to dis­cuss the mat­ter pub­licly and spoke to The As­so­ci­ated Press on con­di­tion of anonymity.

The stab­bings on the seventh night of Hanukkah left one per­son crit­i­cally wounded, Gov. An­drew Cuomo said. The rabbi’s son was also in­jured, he said. Au­thor­i­ties have not pro­vided a mo­tive.

The at­tack was the lat­est in a string of vi­o­lence tar­get­ing Jews in the re­gion, in­clud­ing a Dec. 10 mas­sacre at a kosher gro­cery store in New Jersey. Last month in Mon­sey, a man was stabbed while walk­ing to a syn­a­gogue.

Cuomo said Satur­day’s sav­agery was the 13th an­tiSemitic at­tack in New York since Dec. 8 and en­demic of “an Amer­i­can can­cer on the body politic.”

“This is vi­o­lence spurred by hate, it is mass vi­o­lence and I con­sider this an act of do­mes­tic ter­ror­ism,” Cuomo said. “Let’s call it what it is.”

Ramapo Po­lice Chief Brad Wei­del said it was un­clear why the rabbi’s house was tar­geted or if a spe­cific ide­ol­ogy mo­ti­vated the sus­pect.

The stab­bings hap­pened around 10 p.m. Satur­day at the home of Rabbi Chaim Rot­ten­berg, lo­cated next door to his Con­gre­ga­tion Net­zach Yis­roel syn­a­gogue. The large house on For­shay Road re­mained cor­doned off with yel­low crime-scene tape Sun­day.

“The guy came in wield­ing a big knife, sword, ma­chete — I don’t know what it was,” said Josef Gluck, who hit the as­sailant with a cof­fee ta­ble dur­ing the at­tack.

Levy Kraus, 15, said he was out­side the rabbi’s home when he saw a tall man en­ter with an ob­ject.

“He had some­thing in his hand. It looked like an um­brella. It was cov­ered,” Kraus said.

Later, he said he saw the man rush­ing out of the house and scream­ing at some­one, “I’ll get you.”

Rabbi Motti Selig­son, the media di­rec­tor of the Chabad Lubav­itch move­ment, said wit­nesses told him that peo­ple fled the house and went to the syn­a­gogue where they locked them­selves in. Rabbi Rot­ten­berg led the ser­vice at the syn­a­gogue later, he said.

Wei­del said a wit­ness saw the sus­pect flee­ing in a car and alerted po­lice to the li­cense plate num­ber. Po­lice en­tered that in­for­ma­tion into a data­base and used plate reader tech­nol­ogy to track the ve­hi­cle to Man­hat­tan, where Thomas was ar­rested.

“It was crit­i­cal to the case,” Wei­del said.

Thomas played foot­ball for two sea­sons at Wil­liam Pater­son Uni­ver­sity in New Jersey. He lives with his mother in Green­wood Lake, New York, about 20 miles from Mon­sey, a pros­e­cu­tor said. No one an­swered a tele­phone num­ber listed for his ad­dress and the voice­mail box was full.

Mon­sey, near the New Jersey state line about 35 miles north of New York City, is one of sev­eral Hud­son Val­ley com­mu­ni­ties that has seen a ris­ing pop­u­la­tion of Ha­sidic Jews in re­cent years.

The at­tack and the re­cent wave of anti-Semitic vi­o­lence in the re­gion drew con­dem­na­tion from Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump and other of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Is­rael’s prime min­is­ter, pres­i­dent and am­bas­sador to the United Na­tions.

Jewish com­mu­ni­ties in the New York City metropoli­tan area have been left shaken fol­low­ing a deadly Dec. 10 shoot­ing ram­page at a Jersey City kosher mar­ket.

Six peo­ple — three peo­ple who had been in­side the store, a po­lice of­fi­cer and the two killers — died in the gun­bat­tle and stand­off that New Jersey At­tor­ney General Gur­bir Gre­wal has said was “fu­eled” by ha­tred of Jews and law en­force­ment.

And this past week in New York City it­self, po­lice have re­ceived at least six re­ports of at­tacks pos­si­bly mo­ti­vated by anti-Jewish bias.

STEPHANIE KEITH/GETTY

Peo­ple hold signs of sup­port on Sun­day near the Mon­sey, New York, home of Rabbi Chaim Rot­ten­berg. Five peo­ple were in­jured in a knife at­tack at the home late Satur­day. A sus­pect was ar­rested and charged with at­tempted mur­der and bur­glary.

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