Joseph ‘Joe’ Seals, the Jersey City police detective who was shot and killed in what was described as an “ambush,” was remembered as a veteran officer who leaves behind a large family and was a “great cop” with previous heroism on the force. He took many guns off the streets.
His top post on Facebook, which you can see later in this article, showcased a makeshift way to stop active shooters. The officer was one of the four people who lost their lives when two suspects clad in black, David N. Anderson and Francine Graham, shot the officer and then stormed, while firing weaponry, into a bodega after ditching a stolen U-Haul van in a chaotic sequence of events that unfolded December 10, 2019 in the New Jersey city.
Authorities said in a December 12, 2019 press conference that they are investigating the case as a domestic terrorism incident with a hate crime bent. They say that the shooters appear motivated by, in the words of the U.S. Attorney, “a bias toward both the Jewish community and law enforcement.”
They “had a tremendous amount of firepower. They had a pipe bomb in their van,” the New Jersey Attorney General said.
Brian Thompson of NBC New York reported that the “body of slain Jersey City police officer Joe Seals now on way to Regional Medical Examiner with an American flag draped over it.” Three civilians and the two suspects, David Anderson and Francine Graham, also died.
Seals was described as a “long-time veteran” who joined the Jersey City force in 2006. He worked for a Cease Fire Unit, and the chief, Mike Kelly, said in a news conference that Seals was “our leading police officer in moving guns from the street. Dozens and dozens of handguns he’s responsible for removing from the street.”
Although authorities have stopped short of declaring a motive for the attack, Heavy.com has reviewed multiple posts made online by an identity that the shooter David Anderson is believed to have used on the Internet; he made numerous extremely anti-police comments on various obscure social media and online video pages, glorified Baton Rouge police shooter Gavin Long, unleashed anti-Semitic and anti-Christian vitriol, and called non-black Jewish people “imposters.” NBC News first reported that law enforcement sources believe the identity – Dawad Maqabath and two others – were used by the shooter. The network explained that the same identity made a series of comments on the Internet. You can see screenshots of the posts located by Heavy.com here.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family during this Christmas season and beyond,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop wrote in a statement. “We take for granted sometimes the selfless work a police officer does when they wear that uniform. In the end they are people that volunteered to keep everyone else safe regardless of the circumstance. Today we tragically lost Joe as he was serving the ppl of Jersey City that he volunteered to serve. I know I speak for all the residents that we are grateful for all he has done for our city. Rest In Peace.”
Attorney General Gurbir Singh Grewal that Seals was murdered by the suspects in a cemetery under circumstances that are still not clear. After murdering Seals, at 12:21 p.m., a white U-Haul driven by Anderson parked directly across the street from the store about a mile from the cemetery. Within seconds of arriving, Anderson exited the door “with a rifle in his hand,” said the AG. He walked toward the JC Kosher supermarket and “immediately began shooting.” Graham, the passenger, followed him into the store. From that point onward, the suspects remained in the store. They encountered four civilians in the store. Three were killed. One survived a gunshot wound. Those killed were named as Mindy Ferencz, 32; Miguel Douglas, 49; and Moshe Deutsch, 24. The survivor’s name was not released. “One person escaped with a gunshot wound,” the AG confirmed. The deceased civilians were the wife of the store’s owner, a customer who was the son of a prominent rabbi, and an immigrant from Ecuador who was working in the store to provide for his family.
Chabad.org talked to a survivor who was in the store. “I was standing by the salad bar in the grocery and I heard three shots, bullets shattered the glass of the grocery,” he told Chabad. “Suddenly I saw two people come in, with long black raincoats and long guns. They tried to point the gun at me, I pushed it away and ran away.” Read more about Ferencz and the JC Kosher Supermarket where the standoff occurred here.
The New York Times is reporting that one of the suspects “had published anti-Semitic and anti-police posts online and investigators believe the attack was motivated by those sentiments.” However, authorities said December 11 that the suspects’ ideologies and motivations remain under investigation. They did find firearms and a pipe bomb.
Although authorities said in two press conferences that they don’t have evidence the mass shooting was a terrorist attack or hate crime (the kosher bodega is located in a Jewish neighborhood), later in the evening, without further explanation, Jersey City Mayor Steve tweeted this: “Based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked. Due to an excess of caution the community may see additional police resources in the days/weeks ahead. We have no indication there are any further threats.”
The mayor added: “Joe was somebody who was involved in city. Officers in other precincts knew who he was because he was a good cop.”
In August, Joe Seals posted a meme about a makeshift solution to stop active shooters in schools. “better than doing nothing,” he wrote in his own comment thread under the post:
He also posted tributes to other slain officers.
“Joe be safe out there, God Bless,” wrote one friend on such a tribute on his Facebook page a couple years ago. One of the tributes Seals posted was to Jersey City Officer Melvin Santiago, who was shot and killed in 2014. Santiago’s death was the first Jersey City officer death in five years at that time.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Police Officer, Who Was Recently Made a Detective, Was Described as a Married Father of Five
The slain police officer leaves a large grieving family. Seals was described by Kelly as a “married father of five.” Although four children are pictured in the above photo, Seals’ Facebook page indicates he also had an older daughter. His wife filled her Facebook page with photos showing a large, loving family. Joe Seals wrote on Facebook that he graduated from Bayonne High School, which is located in Bayonne, NJ.
Joe Vuotolo, a neighbor, described Seals as a family man to NJ.com.
“For Halloween, he would climb up on the house, on the roof and put up these crazy decorations for the kids,” he said. “A really great guy. It’s a shame. It’s a tough thing when you lose somebody. Then when you lose them during the holidays and you’ve got young kids, they’re going to be waiting for Santa Claus.”
Joseph Seals was promoted to detective in 2017.
Seals was known to turn out for community events with his family. Former Jersey City Police Chief Robert Cowan told NJ.com: “He was a really good street cop. When I was out on the street…I would see him and his partner always out there. They were always working. They were aggressive cops. They made the city safer.”
For his birthday last spring, he recommended that people donate money to St. Joseph’s School for the Blind. “I’m asking that donations be made in my fathers memory (Paul Seals),” he wrote. “My father, who passed away almost 2 years ago, was born blind and throughout his life needed assistance from schools like this and from the commission for the blind. These people do so much for adults and children with disabilities and you can help by donating. It means a lot to me. Thank you.”
For hours, the suspects holed up in the store, as a massive law enforcement response descended on the street and all Jersey City schools were closed. Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly said it’s believed the suspects shot and killed the civilians; their names have not yet been released.
The governor wrote, “I have been briefed on the unfolding situation in Jersey City. Our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Jersey City Police Department, especially with the officers shot during this standoff, and with the residents and schoolchildren currently under lockdown.”
“Our hearts go out to him. We believe he was killed while trying to interdict these bad guys,” Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly said. “This is all being investigated.” The chief indicated that the officer was looking for “guns” and was killed in the cemetery. However, the exact circumstances remain fuzzy.
“There were two incidents today at two different locations, one at Bayview Cemetery and one at a corner store at Bayview and Martin Luther King,” Mayor Fulop said. “The Jersey City police department did a phenomenal job, and it’s a very tough day for them…There were multiple deceased inside the building.”
Kelly said in the news conference that police received a call of shots fired on the afternoon of December 10, 2019. When they responded, they were “immediately engaged by high-power rifle fire.” At the same time, they learned an officer, later identified as Seals, a Cease Fire unit officer known for removing guns off the streets, “was down in another part of the city.”
Kelly described the crime scene as “very extensive and is at three locations at least. We have one stolen U-Haul vehicle that may contain an incendiary device. It’s being examined by the bomb squad. We have five people DOA inside the store. We believe two of them are bad guys, and we believe three of them are not and may be civilians who were inside the store,” he said. That brings the death toll to six.
2. The Slain Officer May Have Been Working a Homicide Investigation & Posted on Facebook About the Perils of Police Work
NBC New York reported, through sources, that surveillance video shows two suspects “shoot a Hasidic man on the street and then run into the store, where they began firing at the victims inside.” The suspects “had…bomb-making materials inside the truck,” the station reported.
In their first news conference, authorities did not reveal what they think sparked the mass shooting situation. However, NBC New York reported through sources that Joe Seals may have been killed when he approached the two suspects in a “homicide investigation.” Grewal said in a December 11, 2019 that Anderson and Graham are the prime suspects in the murder of Uber driver Michael Rumberger, which occurred a few days before the carnage on Tuesday.
ABC7 reported that, according to law enforcement sources, the suspects might have drawn Seals’ interest because of the death of Rumberger, of Jersey City, whose body was found in the trunk of a Lincoln Town car. Rumberger was found beaten to death with head trauma. There is a GoFundMe page set up to help Rumberger’s family. Learn more about Rumberger’s death here.
NBC New York reported that, according to law enforcement sources, it believed that “Seals saw a U-Haul truck possibly linked to a murder from over the weekend in Bayonne. As he approached the truck, one of the suspects got out of the car and shot him.”
The suspects were armed with high-powered rifles, police said. “Our officers were under fire for hours,” said Kelly. “We have no inkling what the motive was yet.” Kelly confirmed that Seals was shot in a cemetery. As to whether the officer was investigating a homicide, Kelly said “those are all potentialities that are being looked into.” Seals was on duty. “Detective Seals was working. He came upon bad guys, and I don’t know how he got there just yet,” he said, adding that Seals was a plain clothes detective.
Joseph Seals posted on his Facebook page two years ago about a dangerous incident he was in. “Lucky for the both of us I was able to see it was fake before I jumped out and drew down on him. Smh,” he said, sharing a video of a suspect.
“This kid’s lucky he didn’t get shot today. I would have shot him, I would have been the bad guy, right?” Seals says in the video.
He posted this graphic a couple years ago.
After the recent shooting death of the officer, the suspects drove a U-Haul van to JC Kosher Supermarket, where they were holed up for hours and the five bodies were later found.
The New York Daily News reported that “Once inside (the grocery store), the shooters began firing randomly through the windows at anyone on the street.”
Police suspected two shooters early on, Heavy.com has learned from scanner dispatch audio. “We saw two shooters get out of the van. We saw two jump out of that van and go in,” said an officer. The description was “black male and a black female” wearing all black clothing, possibly with rain or trench coats. That officer told the dispatcher it wasn’t clear whether both shooters were still inside the store, but police didn’t see either come out. However, later reports indicated the suspects, who have not been identified, may be two males. Kelly said that “preliminarily” police they think are men. It later turned out the suspects are, in fact, a man and a woman.
Attorney General Grewal said the state saw the “very worst of humanity.” But we also “saw the very best. Yesterday could have been far deadlier. The reason it was not was due to the heroism of the Jersey City police department” and cooperation with other agencies.
3. Seals Was Once Described as a Hero for Saving a Woman From a Rapist & The Police Union Wrote That ‘Our Hearts Are Heavy’ & Asked for Prayers, Saying Officers Had ‘Come Under Attack’
In 2008, Seals was one of two officers credited as heroes for saving a woman who was being sexually assaulted inside her own home on Christmas Eve. “Two of Jersey City’s Finest busted through a window and wrestled the attacker to the ground,” reported NJ.com at the time.
The woman was on the phone with police when the suspect who had previously been chased away, broke inside.
The article says that Seals and another officer “climbed the fire escape and surprised (the suspect), who attempted to flee.”
“The suspect attacked the cops. They did a great job in grabbing this individual and placing him under arrest after a struggle,” said police spokesman Lt. Edgar Martinez said.
New Jersey State PBA wrote on Twitter in the recent death: “Today is a horrific day. Officers have come under attack and we have several wounded. Our hearts are heavy and the violence is not over. We need prayers.”
The scene was later secured but not before the multiple fatalities.
At one point, one of the active shooters was firing at police from the corner grocery store. “He’s shooting again. He’s shooting again,” an officer said on the police scanner early on. Tactical officers responded. “Keep your people safe,” one officer said on the dispatch audio.
Greg Ehrie, special agent in charge of the FBI’s field office in Newark, said the FBI did a forensic analysis of the suspect van.
“They did locate in that, amongst other items that I won’t be discussing, a pipe bomb — an improvised explosive device,” he said. “What I will say is that it was examined, it’s in the FBI laboratory right now. It was a viable device, meaning that it could be a device that would have exploded. It was not complicated but sophisticated in the sense that time and effort went into creating it.”
He also said that officials are still investigating the motive.
4. The Mayor Called Joe Seals a ‘Great Cop’ Who Probably Removed More Guns From the Streets ‘Than Any’
Jersey City’s mayor Fulop praised the slain officer’s character. “I just left the JCMC and we paid respects to the officers and their families. I just want to say something about the officer we lost. His name was Joe Seals. He was a husband, a dad of 5. He was a great cop. I know everyone always says xyz was great after they pass but in this case Joe’s performance speaks for itself. He prob is responsible for more guns being removed from the streets than any. He was an officer that loved JC, was involved in the city, and one that everyone knew regardless of their precinct.”
NJ.com reported that Seals was shot in Bayview Cemetery, and the other was believed to have been shot near Martin Luther King Drive and Bidwell Avenue.
Police described the scene as “chaotic.” The two suspects jumped out of a U-Haul van and ran into the corner store, according to scanner transmissions. A man was down inside the store, and someone had put a glass coffee pot in view. Police worried that it could be a “device.”
The window in the back was garbage bag taped, police said. The bodega in question was located at Wilkinson Avenue and Martin Luther King Dr. in Jersey City. The specific address was 223 MLK Drive, according to NJ.com. Online records say that’s the address of JC Kosher Supermarket.
5. The Shooting of the Officer, Who Once Nabbed Serial Robbery Suspects, Was Described as an ‘Ambush’
NBC New York described what happened to Seals as an “ambush,” and said the officer was shot in the head. NJ.com reported that the officer was shot once in the back of the head, behind the ear. He was 40 years old.
In his time on the force, he did much good.
In 2010, “he and a partner also working in plainclothes arrested a suspect in four robberies after recognizing him from mugshots,” NJ.com reported.
The scanner transmissions gave a sense of the frightening scene.
Scanner traffic indicated that four other people might be in the bodega. “We’ve got movement in the store,” an officer said on the scanner at 2:41 p.m. Officers said a male had “popped out” of the store and then went back in. “Use caution. The U-Haul nearby is hot,” an officer said, referring to the vehicle the suspects arrived at the store in. They said pipe bombs were in it.
Police were surrounding the store. They wanted to make sure that police had a “line of fire.” The New Jersey State Police wrote, “State Police assets from T.E.A.M.S., Canine Unit, Bomb Unit, Marine Services, Aviation, Field Ops, Tactical Patrol, Central Security, Trafficking, and Emergency Response Bureau are assisting @JCPoliceDept with the active shooter investigation.”