Five people were stabbed by a machete-wielding attacker near a New York synagogue. The attacker entered a Monsey, New York, rabbi’s home during Hanukkah celebrations on Saturday, December 28, authorities said. The synagogue, known as Rabbi Rottenberg’s shul, is located on Forshay Road in Rockland County, New York. The suspect was later arrested in New York City after fleeing from the scene.
The suspect has now been named as Grafton Thomas, 37. He has a criminal arrest history that includes punching a police horse, according to Daily Beast. However, his lawyer told the court that Thomas has no convictions.
The suspect lives in Greenwood Lake. Public records show that Thomas lives in a house on Lake Drive that has been owned by a relative since 2001. He previously lived in Brooklyn, New York, records show. According to CNN, Thomas was found with “blood all over him.” He was arrested just after midnight on Sunday. The stabbings occurred about 10 p.m. Saturday.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday morning outside of the synagogue, “This is intolerance, meets ignorance, meets illegality. This is an intolerant time in this country. We see anger, we see hatred exploding. It is an American cancer in the body politic. It literally turns one cell in the body against others. We have seen it here in the state of New York. This is about the 13th incident of anti-Semitism in just the past few weeks. It comes during a period of high holidays for the Jewish people. At the end of the day, it’s not just about words, it’s about action. And we have seen enough in New York. This is violence spurred by hate. It is mass violence and I consider this an act of domestic terrorism. Let’s call it what it is.”
News cameras captured the suspect being walked out of the NYPD’s 32nd Precinct after his arrest. He was taken back to Rockland County. Monsey is a hamlet of Ramapo, New York, and authorities there are leading the investigation.
Ramapo police chief Brad Weidel said in a press conference that five people were stabbed at the residence. NYPD Counterterrorism wrote on Twitter: “We are closely monitoring the reports of multiple people stabbed at a synagogue in Monsey, NY (Rockland County).”
Authorities say the NYPD located the vehicle and possible suspect in Harlem. They also confirmed that the five victims are at area hospitals. The rabbi is named Rabbi Chaim Leib Rottenberg.
CBS New York reported that a man entered the Shul and stabbed multiple people with a machete during a Chanukah celebration. According to the television station, the suspect chased people out of the home before fleeing in a car. Other reports say there are at least five victims, however.
The Orthodox Jews Public Affairs Council located in the area wrote on Twitter: “At 9:50 this eve, a call came in about a mass stabbing at 47 Forshay Road in Monsey (Rockland County; 30 miles North of NYC). It’s the house of a Hasidic Rabbi. 5 patients with stab wounds, all Hasidic, were transported to local hospitals.”
The Council added: “2 of the victims of the attack were taken into hospital as critical. The perp’s face was partially covered with a scarf but skin showed him to be an African American. One of the victims was stabbed at least 6 times. The fifth/least severe case had a cut in his hand. Perp left in a vehicle…a Gray Nissan Sentra.” The New York Times reported that the knife attack occurred in the home of an “ultra-Orthodox rabbi.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Disturbing Videos Showed the Chaos at the Scene & Victims on Stretchers
Authorities said a witness wrote down the suspect’s license plate at the scene and it was uploaded into a police database. License plate readers helped alert the NYPD that the suspect had driven his Nissan Sentra into New York City. He was spotted crossing the George Washington Bridge. He then was apprehended in Harlem.
“On this sixth night of Hanukkah, five people were stabbed during a menorah lighting at a synagogue in Monsey, Rockland County. A man walked in and started stabbing people with a machete,” wrote Mack Rosenberg of WCBS 880.
Disturbing videos posted to Twitter showed victims on stretchers and chaos at the scene. You can see some of those videos throughout this article, but be aware that they are very disturbing. The reports are preliminary and were just breaking on the evening of December 28, 2019. ABC 7 reported that the rabbi’s home is located next door “to his congregation.”
ADL New York/New Jersey wrote, “Aware of reports of a stabbing in Monsey, NY at a synagogue. We are on the way to the scene to gather more information and coordinate with law enforcement.”
Rockland Bluff, a site on Twitter devoted to emergency calls in Rockland County, wrote, “Four people transported to the hospital one serious. PD doing one last perimeter check to see if there are any more patients. Advising EMS units to standby still.”
The videos showed a massive law enforcement response to the scene.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Sunday that the attack was disturbing. “Inexplicable, no warning, nothing said, just hate, just hate and violence. That’s all it was,” he said.
Cuomo said there have been at least 13 anti-Semitic attacks since December 8. “This is a national phenomenon that we are seeing, and it is frightening, it is disturbing. If anyone thinks that something poisonous is not going on in this country, then they are in denial, frankly,” the governor said.
2. Reports Say Thomas Pulled Out a Machete With a Cover Before Stabbing People
Witnesses described a horrific scene where a suspect, face covered with a scarf, knocked on the rabbi’s door and then started stabbing people randomly. Witnesses threw chairs and tables at him to ward him off and their screams alerted people in the synagogue next door. Thus, when he tried to get in there next, they had locked the door and he didn’t make it inside, according to The New York Times.
The suspect “entered Rabbi Rottenberg’s Shul, located in the Forshay neighborhood in Monsey, and pulled out a machete. He pulled off the cover and stabbed at least 3 people. One of the victims was stabbed in the chest,” reported Vos Iz Neias.com.
A man wrote on Twitter, “A man with machete just went into a synagogue not far from my house and started stabbing people. Prayers to those wounded. Reports are that the suspect is still on the loose.”
Authorities have not confirmed those details.
Motti Seligson, director of media for Chabad, reported that people at the synagogue “were gathered for a Hanukkah celebration.” He also wrote, “I’m hearing two men walked into Rabbi Rottenberg’s home where a menorah lighting ceremony was taking place and stabbed five people. They tried moving to the ajoining synagogue but the people there barricaded the door. They fled in a silver car.”
Be aware that there are often conflicting reports in the earliest stages of such tragedies.
Monsey is a hamlet and census-designated place that is located in the town of Ramapo, Rockland County.
3. The Area Has the Largest Jewish Population in New York State & Was Previously the Site of a Stabbing
According to The New York Times, Rockland County’s roughly 320,000 residents are about 31 percent Jewish, which is the largest Jewish population per capita of any New York county.
Previously, an Orthodox Jewish man was stabbed as he walked to a Monsey synagogue, The Times reported in November 2019.
Earlier in the day on December 28, Governor Andrew Cuomo tweeted about a different attack, writing, “I am disgusted to learn of the attack on three members of our Jewish community in Brooklyn on Friday—the 6th anti-Semitic incident in NYC just this week. The cowards responsible are trying to spread fear, but they will always fail. NY stands united against anti-Semitism & hate.” The Jersey City mass shooting at a Kosher supermarket has also left the Jewish community shaken.
4. New York’s Attorney General Declared Herself ‘Deeply Disturbed’ by the Monsey Attack
“I am deeply disturbed by the situation unfolding in Monsey, New York tonight,” New York’s Attorney General Letitia James wrote on Twitter.
“There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation. I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night.”
The Rockland County Executive also condemned the attack.
Mark D. Levine, New York City Councilman, wrote, “There have been NINE anti-Semitic attacks in NYC in the past week. And now this horror tonight just outside the city, in Monsey. This is a full blown crisis. None of what we are doing is good enough.”
5. People Expressed Heartbreak on Social Media
People took to social media to express their heartbreak over yet another attack.
“my hurt is BROKEN for the jewish people. my thoughts and prayers are going out for every person hurt by the events at monsey shul tonight,” wrote one woman. “im at a loss for words, but this is disgusting. no one should have to fear for their life just because they are practicing their faith.”
Another woman wrote, “Pray for Monsey. There are terrified families all over this nation right now and we need to say enough is enough. Antisemitism is an evil. A stain.”
This post is being updated as more is known about the stabbing attack.
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