JERSEY CITY, N.J. — A burgeoning Orthodox Jewish community in Jersey City was still reeling Wednesday from a ferocious attack at a kosher grocery store that Mayor Steve Fulop called a “hate crime” even though the state’s top law enforcement officials said it was too early to know what motivated the two shooters who killed four people.
Investigators were still piecing together what led suspects David N. Anderson and Francine Graham to kill police officer Joseph Seals at Bayview Cemetery around noon Tuesday and then drive a mile to JC Kosher Supermarket on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, where they immediately opened fire on the store, killing three people inside.
They then engaged police in a massive shootout that lasted almost three hours before the two were killed.
Investigators revealed Wednesday that Anderson and Graham were also prime suspects in the slaying of a Jersey City man who was found beaten to death in the trunk of a car in Bayonne on Saturday night. Investigators would not say if the two crimes are connected.
As officials gave updates on the crimes, two victims — Leah Minda Ferencz, 31, and Moshe Hirsch Deutsch, 24, both members of the local Orthodox community — were being prepared to be laid to rest in New York.
The third victim in the store was Douglas Miguel Rodriguez Barzola, 49, a recent immigrant from Guayaquil in Ecuador, according to the Consul General of Ecuador in New Jersey. Another man was shot but ran out of the store and is recovering, authorities said.
Dueling press conferences
At a news conference Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said investigators were still trying to find out what motivated Anderson and Graham, and cautioned the public and media against running to conclusions.
“We know there is significant speculation about the shooter’s motives,” Grewal said. “We’re not in the position at this time to say definitively why the suspects decided to stop in front of the supermarket” and begin firing immediately.
But an hour later at his own news conference, Fulop said that Tuesday’s carnage was a targeted attack and that it would be a “disservice” not to address what he called the obvious anti-Semitic nature of the crime.
“There’s no question that this is a hate crime and anti-Semitism needs to be called out aggressively, quickly and immediately for what it is,” Fulop said.
Fulop said it was clear that the two assailants bypassed potential targets near the store, and began shooting into the store right after they emerged from a van on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.
Grewal confirmed that Seals was shot and killed by Anderson, 47, and Graham, 50, at Bayview Cemetery around noon Tuesday. The two then drove a U-Haul van to JC Kosher Supermarket at 223 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Surveillance footage shows that the duo in the deadly shooting moved “calmly” while exiting a van with two long rifles before deliberately shooting into the kosher supermarket.
Grewal said “documentary and digital evidence” was found at the crime scene and is being reviewed to determine the shooters’ motives.
A pipe bomb was later found in the van.
“It was a viable device, meaning it could be a device that would have exploded,” said Gregory Ehrie, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Newark field office. The bomb was “not complicated but sophisticated in the sense that time and effort went into creating it.”
Suspects: Francine Graham and David Anderson
Anderson had at one time been a member of the Black Hebrew Israelite group, according to law enforcement sources. The group has been known to shout anti-Semitic rhetoric while congregating on the streets of New York City and elsewhere.
The leaders the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ in New York, which is among groups connected to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, said through an attorney Wednesday that they have no connection to the shooting and do not know the suspects.
“There’s no relationship to the events in Jersey City,” said Gerald Lefcourt, the attorney. “There is no connection whatsoever, no knowledge of the individuals” who were named as suspects.
One of the suspects, Graham, lived on the eastern border of Elizabeth in a quiet and suburban section of the city known as Elizabethport, blocks away from the Arthur Kill and a football field.
She lived in a townhouse complex called Waters Edge. Most of her neighbors didn’t know her well and said she kept to herself.
One neighbor a few doors down said Graham was “a little bit off.” She said Graham was known for yelling at the children playing in the street.
“She wasn’t that friendly,” said the neighbor. Still, she was “surprised” that Graham was named as a shooter.
Another neighbor, who lived a few doors down and across the street and who did not give her name, said Graham was “very quiet.”
One neighbor said the FBI was knocking on doors in the complex.
The Bayonne killing is being investigated by the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office while the Jersey City shootings are being handled by the Attorney General. Bayonne police did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Michael Rumberger was found unresponsive with trauma to his head in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car around 10 p.m. Saturday at 17th Street and John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Bayonne. The 34-year-old Jersey City man was pronounced dead at the scene at 11 p.m.
Timeline of the shooting
Video surveillance footage sheds some light on a timeline of a fluid situation that still has many unanswered questions.
After parking the van, the suspects are seen exiting with rifles in hand and bypass multiple other people in the street, said Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea. “They bypassed them to attack the place,” Shea said. “That was clearly their target.”
Shea said that the incident did not begin with gunfire between the suspects and police, but instead started with the “attack of civilians inside the store.”
Two Jersey City officers were on foot a block away “and prevented the perpetrators from leaving that location and harming any further civilians,” Fulop said.
Both officers, Ray Sanchez and Mariela Fernandez — who were wounded by gunshots — had been released from the hospital by late Tuesday afternoon.
“Had they not responded and been in that location, more than likely more people would have died,” Shea said.
The victims were struck by rounds thought to have been fired by the suspects, police said. They were inside a kosher grocery store in a section of the city that has become a home for about 100 Orthodox Jewish families.
Seals, the detective who was killed, was a father of five from North Arlington and part of a department tasked to get guns off the city’s streets. Seals was on duty and in plainclothes when he was shot by at least one of the suspects at the cemetery.
The front end of JC Kosher Supermarket was destroyed, with much of the storefront in ruins Wednesday. Chesed shel Emes, a Jewish recovery service, was on scene along with Jersey City Police.
Bullet holes could be seen on the walls and windows of Sacred Heart School, which faces the market.
Fulop said there were no further threats but the city will have an increased police presence.
‘The Wild Wild West’
People on the streets of Jersey City near the scene were still reeling Wednesday.
“It was like the Wild Wild West,” said a man who lives above the supermarket.
A woman who lives above the supermarket said she didn’t initially know what was going on as she was leaving her apartment with her young children.
“We saw a bullet ricochet off the door and we went back up. Police told us to stay on the floor,” she said. “I haven’t been able to get my 1-year-old daughter to stop crying.”
Khalis Harris, 37, who has lived in the neighborhood for his whole life, said “everyone just wants to leave” the area.
“If it’s not yesterday’s shooting, it’ll be another one,” he said.
Harris heard the shooting commence near Garfield Avenue and noticed how it moved further up, initially thinking it was gang violence.
“It was nonstop shooting,” Harris said.
Harris said that there was a time when he was scared to walk down the street, but around-the-clock police presence has eased some of his fears.
In Bergen County, Sheriff Anthony Cureton ordered Sheriff’s Office personnel to increase patrol at synagogues and surrounding population centers in response to Tuesday’s shooting.
Staff Writers Scott Fallon, Steve Janoski, Abbott Koloff, Nick Muscavage and Bob Makin contributed to this article.