JERSEY CITY, N.J. —Joseph Seals, a Jersey City police detective, died Tuesday during a bloody gunfight that started in a cemetery and tore through the city’s Greenville section, leaving six dead and several wounded.
Seals, a 40-year-old married father of five, joined the city police in 2006. A Bayonne native, he graduated from that city’s high school in 1997, according to his Facebook page. He was promoted to detective in November 2017 and belonged to the department’s Cease Fire Unit.
At a Tuesday evening news conference, Jersey City Police Commissioner Michael Kelly said Seals was on duty when he was gunned down at Bayview Cemetery on Garfield Avenue. But he did not know details of why Seals was there.
“I just know he came upon bad guys and I’m not sure how he got there just yet,” Kelly said, adding later that police “have no inkling what the motive is.”
Calls to Seals’ family were not returned Tuesday evening. Several unmarked police cruisers were parked outside the family’s North Arlington home, and officers cordoned off the area around the house.
Visiting family friends remembered Seals as a great dad who was always there for his kids.
“He was a great, great guy — couldn’t be better,” said a man who declined to give his name as he brought flowers to the home. “It’s a shame.”
The gunfight that claimed Seals’ life exploded onto the city’s rain-soaked streets at about 12:30 p.m., when either one or two gunmen shot the detective in the cemetery. When city police responded to calls of gunfire near Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, they were met with fire from the gunmen’s high-powered rifles, authorities say.
Police closed the streets around a kosher grocery store in which the suspects barricaded themselves, authorities said. Backup from surrounding counties and the Port Authority police arrived, as did agents from the FBI and ATF.
The gunmen continued their fusillade, pouring fire onto police for several hours, Kelly said. They hit two officers, Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez, in the shoulder and the body, Kelly said. Both have since been released from the hospital.
By the end of the day, five lay dead in the supermarket: three civilians and the two suspected gunmen, Kelly said. No civilians were hit outside the store.
Seals was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“I can just tell you they were very, very brave, along with many men and women out there,” Kelly said.
The gunmen also drove a stolen U-Haul truck that may contain an “incendiary device,” Kelly said. The city’s bomb squad is investigating.
As the sun set on the day of shocking violence, city officials and police across North Jersey mourned the dead officer. On Facebook, police and their supporters shared photos of Seals, his family and the Jersey City police shield with a black bar across its center.
“We’d all give anything to have Det. Seals back and the other people who passed away today,” said James Shea, Jersey City’s public safety director. “But there is no question the Jersey City Police Department did what they were supposed to do to protect that neighborhood.”
Mayor Steve Fulop and police brass met with Seals’ family at Jersey City Medical Center to lend their condolences. In a Facebook post, Fulop called Seals “one of our best police officers,” and said he was responsible for pulling more illegal guns off the street than anyone else.
“He was an officer that loved [Jersey City], was involved in the community, and one that everyone knew regardless of their precinct,” Fulop wrote. “Sometimes we take for granted the work a police officer does when they wear that uniform. I know I’m guilty of it at times. In the end, they are people that volunteered to keep everyone else safe regardless of the circumstance. That was Joe Seals … We were beyond lucky to have him.”
Kelly, the chief, said Seals’ South District precinct is one of the busiest in the state and sees more than its share of violent crime.
“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.”