Suspect arraigned after 5 stabbed at Hanukkah event in rabbi’s home near New York City
A man stabbed and wounded five people as they gathered at a rabbi’s home north of New York City to celebrate Hanukkah, in an attack that the governor said Sunday was fueled by intolerance and evidence of a “cancer” in American politics.
Police tracked a fleeing suspect to Manhattan and made an arrest within hours of the attack Saturday night in Monsey. Grafton E. Thomas had blood all over his clothing and smelled of bleach when officers stopped him, prosecutors said.
President Trump condemned the “horrific” attack, saying in a tweet Sunday that “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
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 on suspicion of 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 was scouring digital evidence, the official said. The agency is 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 Saturday night stabbings north of New York City on the seventh night of Hanukkah come on the heels of a series of attacks targeting Jews in the region, including a massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey earlier this month. The rabbi’s home is in Monsey, a town not far from the New Jersey state line and one of several in the Hudson Valley that has seen an influx of Hasidic Jews in recent years. The Rockland County town is about 35 miles north of New York City.
One person was seriously wounded, Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters, and remained in critical condition. The rabbi’s son was also injured, Cuomo said. His status and that of the other victims was not clear.
Authorities have not provided a motive for the attack, but Cuomo said it was an example of larger problems.
“This is an intolerant time in our country,” he said to reporters outside the rabbi’s home on Sunday morning. “We see anger, we see hatred exploding.”
He added: “It is an American cancer on the body politic.”
He said he thought the crime was an act of domestic terrorism and expected it to be prosecuted that way.
Police said the stabbings happened around 10 p.m. A witness saw the suspect fleeing in a car and alerted police to the license plate number, said Weidel, the police chief in Ramapo, which covers Monsey. That allowed police to find his vehicle as he entered New York City, where police apprehended him.
“It was critical to the case,” said Weidel.
The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council for the Hudson Valley region tweeted reports that the stabbings took place at the house of a Hasidic rabbi during a Hanukkah celebration.
The large home remained cordoned off with yellow crime-scene tape early Sunday. According to public records, the home belongs to Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, who leads the adjacent synagogue. Several state and local officials had described the location of the stabbings as a synagogue.
Aron Kohn told the New York Times he was inside the residence during the stabbings.
“I was praying for my life,” said Kohn, 65. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”
The attack drew condemnation from top state officials, including Cuomo and Atty. Gen. Letitia James, as well as from Israel’s president and prime minister.
“Israel unequivocally condemns the recent expressions of anti-Semitism and the vicious attack in the middle of Hanukkah on the rabbi’s house in Monsey, N.Y.,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “We send our wishes of recovery to the wounded. We will cooperate in every way with the local authorities in order to defeat this phenomenon. We offer our help to each and every state.”
Cuomo, who called the stabbings a “cowardly act,” directed the New York State Police hate crimes task force to investigate.
“Let me be clear: anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate,” he said in a statement. “In New York we will always stand up and say with one voice to anyone who wishes to divide and spread fear: you do not represent New York and your actions will not go unpunished.”
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 gun battle and standoff that New Jersey Atty. Gen. Gurbir Grewal has said was “fueled” by hatred of Jews and law enforcement.
Last month, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue in the same town that was the site of Saturday night’s attack; he required surgery. It’s unclear whether the assailant has been arrested.
And this past week in New York City itself, police have received at least six reports — eight since Dec. 13 — of attacks possibly motivated by anti-Jewish bias. Mayor Bill de Blasio said Friday that a police presence would increase in Brooklyn neighborhoods home to large Jewish populations.
“I am so sad for this openly #orthodox #Jewish community & the ones across the region,” tweeted Evan Bernstein, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League of New York and New Jersey who went to the scene in Monsey. “When will a break from this hate come? When will the community be able to be relaxed again? #Hanukkah will never be the same for so many of the #Jews impacted.”
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