In an afternoon of mayhem in Greenville, Jersey City on Tuesday, two armed individuals targeted a policeman and then a kosher grocery, leaving six people dead, including themselves.
As well as three civilians, among those killed was Detective Joe Seals, a 15-year Jersey City police veteran and father of five, whom one neighbour described as the type to “run toward danger.” The other victims have not been identified.
Police said earlier on Tuesday they believed the grocery was randomly singled out, but since then social media postings, a note left in a van used by the shooters, and the way the pair appeared to single out the grocery, have led authorities to believe the rampage may have been a hate crime.
On Wednesday, citing police sources, the New York Times reported that investigators found a “manifesto-style” note left in the U-Haul truck used by the suspects, along with a live pipe bomb. The note, brief and “rambling,” is not believed to suggest a motive. Earlier, however, the Times reported that one suspect had posted anti-Semitic and anti-police messages online, and cited law enforcement officials as saying investigators believed the attack was motivated by those sentiments.
The Times, citing a law enforcement source, reports that the suspects are named David Anderson and Francine Graham. Anderson, the Times reports, appears to be linked to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as a hate group.
What turned into an hours-long gun battle erupted at the Jewish JC Kosher Supermarket at around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday, after the suspects first shot Seals before moving on to the grocery. The Times reported that Seals had approached a U-Haul at Bayview Cemetery, about a mile from the deli, because the van had been connected by police to a weekend murder. CCTV footage is said to show the pair, a man and a woman, shooting Seals dead. They then drove to the deli, parked, and headed inside.
Two police on patrol nearby are said to have responded to the call immediately, with Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly telling the Times the officers came under “high-powered rifle fire” upon arrival. That kicked off a shootout, with the area put into lockdown mode, gunfire erupting all around, and heavily armed police — some sent in from the NYPD’s special operations division — roaming the area in formation, weapons in the air. Videos on social media showed alarmed news crews at the scene, as gunfire cracked in the near-distance.
“They exited the van and they proceeded to attack this location in a targeted manner,” Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea told a morning news conference of the suspects. “With the amount of ammunition they had, we have to assume they would have continued attacking human beings if we hadn’t been there.”
After the shooting started, the suspects are reported to have kept on the move around the immediate area for hours, with police in pursuit, exchanging fire. “Their movement was rapid and continuous for four hours within that area,” Kelly said.
Two officers suffered gunshot wounds, but have since been released from care. It is unclear if these two officers are the same two that first reached the deli.
Shea did not comment on why the deli was targeted but said the shooters appeared to choose it rather than other people or locations on the street.
Rabbi Moshe Schapiro, of the Chabad of Hoboken and Jersey City, told the Times it is “a grocery that is very popular with the local Jewish community.” The Times reported that the area where the deli is located is part of a growing Jewish community in Greenville. Some 100 Hasidic families have reportedly relocated there from Williamsburg, Brooklyn in recent times.
All 43 public schools were locked down as the rampage began — a lockdown that has since been lifted. However, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop ordered police to be on high alert to protect Jewish neighbourhoods.
“Due to an excess of caution the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead,” Fulop wrote on Twitter. “We have no indication there are any further threat(s).” Fulop said CCTV cameras in the city showed that, “these two individuals targeted the kosher grocery location.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted that while there was no known specific threat to New York City, he had placed police on high alert to protect Jewish residents.
“Tonight NYPD assets are being deployed to protect key locations in the Jewish community,” he said late Tuesday.
“Today reminds us of their bravery and the sacrifices they, and their families, make for our communities,” Phil Murphy, Democratic governor of New Jersey, said of the police in a statement, the Washington Post reported.
In a separate development in New York yesterday, New York City police officers were seen breaking the windows of a vehicle near the Holland Tunnel, and dragging an occupant from it. The vehicle had appeared as if it was trying to flee in dense traffic, with police officers filmed briefly running alongside it. It remains unclear if this incident is related to the Greenville one.
On Wednesday, meanwhile, the Times reported that police could be seen back at the deli, scouring the scene for clues.
Detective Seals, the Times reported, lived in North Arlington, New Jersey, with his wife and five kids. A 15-year veteran of the force with a history of getting guns off the street, he worked in Jersey City’s South District and had made detective in 2017.
“He was our leading police officer in removing guns from the street,” Kelly said. “Dozens and dozens of handguns he is responsible for removing from the street. We believe that he was killed while trying to interdict these bad guys.”
Joe Buocolo, 74, a retired New Jersey police lieutenant who lives beside the family, told the Times of Seals:
“He’s that kind of guy. I’m not surprised he ran toward danger. I don’t think he’d back down from anything, to be honest with you.”
No further details have been provided about the murder that the U-Haul had reportedly been connected to.
— with files from the New York Times and National Post staff