JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Fears that a deadly shooting at a Jewish market in Jersey City was an anti-Semitic attack mounted on Wednesday as authorities recounted how a man and a woman deliberately pulled up to the place in a rental van with at least one rifle and got out firing.
A day after the gunbattle and standoff that left six people dead — the two killers, a police officer and three people who had been inside the store — state and federal law enforcement officials warned they have not established the motive for the attack.
“The why and the ideology and the motivation — that’s what we’re investigating,” New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said, adding that authorities are also trying to determine if anyone else was involved.
But Mayor Steve Fulop insisted surveillance video made it clear the attackers targeted the kosher market, saying they drove slowly through the city’s streets and then calmly got out of their van and promptly opened fire. And other politicians — including New York’s mayor and governor — portrayed it as a hate crime against Jews.
Also, authorities are investigating potential connections between the attackers and the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, some of whose members are known to rail against whites and Jews, a law enforcement official familiar with the case said. Investigators also are scouring social media postings of at least one of the gunmen in search of a motive, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is still going on.
The killers were identified as David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50 — both of them also prime suspects in the slaying of an Uber driver found dead in car trunk in nearby Bayonne over the weekend, Grewal said. Anderson served about four months in prison in New Jersey on weapons charges and was paroled in 2011, authorities said.
“The report from the Jersey City mayor saying it was a targeted attack makes us incredibly concerned in the Jewish community,” said Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish civil rights organization. “They want answers. They demand answers. If this was truly a targeted killing of Jews, then we need to know that right away, and there needs to be the pushing back on this at the highest levels possible.”
The shooting in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City began at a graveyard, where Detective Joseph Seals, a 40-year-old member of a unit devoted to taking illegal guns off the street, was gunned down by the assailants, authorities said. They then drove the van about a mile to the kosher market.
Grewal said that within seconds of pulling up to the market, Anderson got out with a rifle and immediately began shooting, and Graham followed him into the store. He would not say whether Graham had a weapon.
A pipe bomb was found in the attackers’ van, FBI agent Gregory Ehrie said.
“There were multiple other people on the street, so there were many other targets available to them that they bypassed to attack that place, so it was clear that was their target and they intended to harm people inside,” the mayor said of the attackers. But Fulop cautioned: “I didn’t use the word `anti-Semitic.′ Anything else is open for investigation.”
The drawn-out battle with police filled the streets with the sound of high-powered rifle fire and turned the city into what looked like a war zone, with SWAT officers in full tactical gear swarming the neighborhood.
Five bodies were found at the store: the killers and three people who were inside at the time. Police said they were confident the bystanders were shot by the gunmen and not by police.
Two of the victims at the store were identified by members of the Orthodox Jewish community as Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery, and 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there. The Ferencz family had moved to Jersey City from Brooklyn. The third victim was identified by authorities as Miguel Douglas, 49.
A fourth person was shot and wounded at the store when attackers burst in, but escaped, Grewal said.
Rabbi Moshe Shapiro said he spoke with the survivor at a hospital. “He said the guy next to him fell to the ground,” Shapiro said. “He suffered two gunshot wounds but managed to run out of the store and climb over fences.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said on MSNBC that the attack was “clearly a hate crime,” while New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo pronounced it a “deliberate attack on the Jewish community.” They announced tighter police protection of synagogues and other Jewish establishments in New York as a precaution.
In the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue north of San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.
The kosher grocery is a central fixture in a growing community of Orthodox Jews who have been moving to Jersey City in recent years and settling in what was a mostly black section of Jersey City, causing some resentment.
Mordechai Rubin, a member of the local Jewish emergency medical services, said the small Jewish community has grown over the past three or four years, made up mostly of people from Brooklyn seeking a “nicer, quieter” and more affordable place to live. Next to the store is a synagogue with a school and day care center where 40 students were present at the time of the shooting, he said.
“It’s unfortunate what happened, but we don’t even want to think about what would have happened if they made their way up to the day care or to the synagogue,” he said.
Authorities also said several fake Go Fund me pages have popped up purporting to be raising funds for the family of the slain officer, a father of five. An FBI official said that as of last night, no legitimate Go Fund me pages for the officer had been established.