Grafton Thomas, the suspect accused of stabbing multiple Jewish people with an 18-inch machete at a Monsey, New York rabbi’s home during Hanukkah celebrations, left behind journals containing anti-Semitic references, comments about Adolf Hitler and references to the Black Hebrew Israelite group, authorities say.
The attack, which unfolded in Rockland County, New York, was the latest in a series of attacks against Jewish people in New York. The suspects in the earlier mass shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City also showed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelite movement.
Thomas’s former stepfather, Joe Kennedy, told Heavy in an interview that, through the time he knew him, until 2014, Grafton had grown increasingly aggressive and unstable, even attacking him with a fire extinguisher. He believes Thomas is mentally ill and also provided some biographical details, saying that Thomas had previously served in the military, was born in America to a family with roots in Guyana, once worked on a chicken farm, and identified as Muslim.
“He was a guy almost 6 foot 5, and 200 and something odd pounds. That’s a frightening situation when it’s someone pretty much out of control,” said Kennedy, adding that he never heard Thomas express hatred toward Jewish people during the decade he knew him. “He is a mentally disturbed young man who didn’t receive proper treatment.”
According to CNN, Thomas’s family released a statement reading in part, “We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which. … Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released.” They also said that Thomas “has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races.”
Thomas is now charged with federal hate crimes. Thomas’s “residence contained handwritten journals with several pages of anti-Semitic references,” the Department of Justice revealed in a press release. “Thomas’s cellphone contained Internet searches dating back to at least November 2019 for terms such as ‘Zionist Temples’ in Staten Island and New Jersey, as well as a webpage visit on the day of the attack to an article titled, ‘New York To Increase Police Presence After Anti-Semitic Attacks.'”
He’s also accused of referring to Adolf Hitler and “Nazi culture” on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and Swastika. In addition, he used his phone to search “why did Hitler hate the Jews” and “German Jewish Temples near me” as well as “Zionist temples in Elizabeth NJ” and of Staten Island and “prominent companies founded by Jews in America,” the complaint alleges.
Grafton Thomas is 37 and lived in Greenwood Lake, New York, which is about 20 miles away from Monsey (where the stabbings occurred) in Orange County, New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo said Sunday, “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.” He said there have been at least 13 anti-Semitic attacks in New York state since December 8.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Authorities Found Disturbing Comments About ‘Semitic Genocide’ & Say That Thomas Told the Victims ‘No One is Leaving’
At Grafton’s home in Greenwood Lake, authorities found the packaging for an 18-inch Ozark Trail machete. According to the complaint, comments in the journals stated that the “Hebrew Israelites” took from the “powerful ppl (ebinoid Israelites).” Thomas also questioned “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide,” authorities allege. The complaint states that the term “ebinoid Israelites” appears to be a reference to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, in which “groups of African-Americans assert that they are the descendants of the ancient Israelites. Both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center have stated that some Black Hebrew Israelites espouse anti-Semitic beliefs.”
Witnesses described a horrific scene in which the suspect, his face shielded partially with a scarf, knocked on Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s door and then unleashed mayhem by pulling a machete-style knife out of a case. People threw furniture at him to ward off the attack, which unfolded on the evening of December 28, 2019.
Thomas “declared to dozens of assembled congregants, ‘no one is leaving,’ and attacked the group with an 18-inch machete. At least five victims were hospitalized with serious injuries, including slash wounds, deep lacerations, a severed finger, and a skull fracture,” the DOJ release says.
The Jerusalem Post reported that the attack occurred at what is called Rabbi Rottenberg’s Shul. Ramapo police chief Brad Weidel said in a press conference that five people were stabbed at the residence. The rabbi’s son was among those wounded. The knife was the “size of a broomstick,” a witness told Lohud.
Some media outlets reported the suspect’s name as Thomas Grafton or Thomas E. Grafton, but public records reveal it to be Grafton E. Thomas. He was arraigned Sunday afternoon in Ramapo town court on five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Justice Rhoda Schoenberger ordered Thomas held on $5 million bail, Ramapo Town Supervisor Michael Specht tweeted. Schoenberger ordered Thomas to return to court January 3.
News cameras captured the suspect being walked out of the NYPD’s 32nd Precinct in Harlem 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. Assistant District Attorney Michael Dugandzic wanted the judge to hold Thomas without bail, but the judge said she couldn’t do so because of the state’s “new prison reform laws,” Lohud reports, adding that one victim has a fractured skull.
However, the community quickly rose in defiance and with grace. “Right after the #Monsey stabbing, the Rabbi and his followers gathered in the synagogue next door to his home (where the attack took place), and continued the celebrations. ‘The grace of God did not end and his mercy did not leave us,’ is a rough translation of the lyrics,” wrote the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council.
NYPD Counterterrorism wrote on Twitter: “We are closely monitoring the reports of multiple people stabbed at a synagogue in Monsey, NY (Rockland County).”
“I am horrified by the stabbing of multiple people at a synagogue in Rockland County tonight,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We have zero tolerance for anti-Semitism in NY and we will hold the attacker accountable to the fullest extent of the law. NY stands with the Jewish community.”
Thomas is charged with “five counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 247. Each of the five counts carries a maximum prison term of life,” says the federal government.
Monsey is a hamlet and census-designated place that is located in the town of Ramapo, Rockland County.
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.
The New York Post reported that authorities are now investigating whether Grafton Thomas was the perpetrator in that attack. In that incident, in November, the victim was “beaten and repeatedly knifed while walking to the Mosdos Meharam Brisk Tashnad religious center in Monsey,” The Post reports.
2. The NYPD Located Grafton Thomas in a 2015 Nissan Sentra With ‘Blood All Over Him’ But His Pastor Says He’s Mentally Ill
Public records show that Thomas lives in a house on Lake Drive in Greenwood Lake that has been owned by a relative since 2001. He previously lived in Brooklyn, New York, records show. In contrast to previous attacks where suspects had prolific online presences, no obvious social media accounts for Thomas have been unearthed.
The acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigrations Services caused controversy when he tweeted that Thomas is the child of illegal immigrants who received amnesty in the 1980s. He claimed “American values did not take hold.”
His pastor of 10 years, Reverend Wendy Paige of the Hudson Highlands Cooperative Parish, told The New York Post that Thomas is mentally ill, saying, “Grafton is not a terrorist, he is a man who has mental illness in America and the systems that be have not served him well. I have been his pastor for a long time and I have seen him, he is not a violent person, he is a confused person.” She added to the Post that Thomas has battled mental illness for more than 20 years, with multiple hospitalizations.
Michael Sussman, Thomas’s lawyer, told CNN he “suffered from depression and psychosis for years…and was hospitalized several times in 2019.”
On the night of the stabbings, Thomas told Sussan he heard a “voice talking to him about a piece of property that he understood was in that house,” Sussman told CNN, addig that Thomas talked about “various auditory hallucinations and one might say ‘demons.'”
Taleea Collins, his mom’s friend, said Thomas is “a lovely person” and added, according to the Post: “Grafton has always been a loving, loving man towards me. He calls me ‘auntie’ sometimes. He’s just a lovely person. I’ve never seen him be violent and I know that he suffers from mental illnesses.” However, the community’s mayor told the Post that Grafton lived “like a hermit.”
The suspect fled the stabbing scene in a vehicle, but it didn’t take long for police to locate it. Police revealed that the NYPD had located the suspect in the 32nd Precinct. 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.
“Following the attack, Thomas traveled in a car to New York City, and he was stopped in Harlem by members of the New York City Police Department,” the DOJ release states. “The responding officers observed what appeared to be blood on Thomas’s hands and clothing, and smelled bleach coming from his vehicle. A search of Thomas’s vehicle led to the seizure of, among other things, a machete that appeared to have traces of dried blood on it.”
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. “Last night, a keen eye & quick response by @NYPD32Pct cops led to the apprehension of a suspect wanted in connection with the horrific attack at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey,” New York’s Police Commissioner wrote. “Outstanding work by Officers Radziwon & Mattera.”
Governor Cuomo called the incident “frightening” and “inexplicable.” He said earlier that the suspect did not make any statements before stabbing people. “Nothing said, just hate. Hate and violence, that’s all it was,” Cuomo said Sunday.
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.”
3. Thomas’s Former Stepfather Told Heavy That Thomas Was Mentally Ill & Increasingly Violent & Aggressive
Joe Kennedy was Grafton Thomas’s stepfather for years and knew the family for about a decade. In an interview with Heavy, he described how Thomas’s mental health seemed to deteriorate over the years. Roughly 6 foot 5 inches tall and weighing over 200 pounds, Thomas struck an opposing figure, and Kennedy says Grafton became violent with him several times.
In fact, he says it’s why his marriage to Thomas’s mother, a nurse who is an immigrant from Guyana, ultimately failed. He described some terrifying scenes: Allegedly waking up at night to see Grafton staring at him in the dark next to his bed, fending off his stepson who was wielding a fire extinguisher, and discovering that his own young son had bruised ribs, he thinks from Thomas.
“He was a very challenging young man, very troubled,” said Kennedy in a lengthy phone interview with Heavy.
Kennedy also shed new light on biographical details of Thomas; he alleged that Thomas associated with the Crips and Bloods gang. Thomas was born in America and raised in Brooklyn but his mother moved the family to a smaller town to get away from gang influences.
He said Thomas was briefly in the Army years ago but received a medical discharge. He said that Thomas held odd jobs over the years, working on a chicken farm and factory, but relied on his mother and stepdad for rent and even furniture. He said Thomas was Muslim.
Kennedy agreed to speak out so that people get the real story instead of hearing from people who barely knew Thomas. He said Thomas was supposed to take medications and his mother tried to get him help, but he wouldn’t always take it. He believes he was schizophrenic, bipolar, and had depression.
However, Kennedy rejected the characterization of Thomas as a “terrorist” at the time he knew him anyway and said he never knew him to “label” people or express any hatred toward Jews back then. Rather, the former stepdad’s description of Thomas roughly matches that given by Thomas’s pastor to reporters: Of a person whose mental health was unraveling for years. Kennedy spoke to Heavy before the news broke of the hate crime charges and anti-Semitic journals.
According to Kennedy, Thomas “was discharged from the Army. He hurt his wrist, so he was unable to perform his military duty.” Heavy has reached out to the U.S. Army for confirmation, and the Army said it’s looking into whether Thomas served. However, The New York Post reported that Thomas claimed to be in the Marines, not the Army.
He said that Thomas’s actions were the biggest reason why the marriage ended. “His mom is a nurse. Somewhere in her head, she figured she could fix him,” Kennedy said. “Her and I had days of discussions concerning Grafton and his behavior.” He says the mom sought medical attention for Grafton but he believes that Grafton didn’t always take his medications.
He said he was with Grafton’s mom for 10 years and they were married for five of them. “Things got worse and worse” with Grafton, he said.
Kennedy said he’s also a strong person, so he wasn’t scared per se, but now looking back on it, he feels lucky he wasn’t killed or harmed. “He attacked me a few times,” he told Heavy, adding that he’s getting older and is also disabled from an accident. Kennedy, who used to work as a carpenter and is tied in online records to Grafton’s mom, still lives in New York State.
Asked specifically what happened, Kennedy said: “One time he attacked me with a fire extinguisher. He busted me in the face with it, and I had to fight for my life.” He said that he didn’t press charges because he wanted to save his marriage at that point.
Asked if he ever heard Thomas express hatred toward Jewish people during the years he knew him, he said, “No, he didn’t label anybody.”
He added: “He considered himself a Muslim, but he didn’t practice…He didn’t pray five times a day. He didn’t do the dietary supplements. He went through the process. He would go to the mosque and pray. He is still a Muslim.”
He thinks it’s possible that Thomas’s religious beliefs “played some type of part” in the attack on the rabbi’s home. He claimed that Thomas thought he was affiliated with the Crips and Bloods gang and that one time he called people from Brooklyn to come “put laser beams” on a neighbor’s house they thought was racist.
“He is a mentally disturbed young man who didn’t receive proper treatment,” says Kennedy.
He added: “He wanted to fight with me; he didn’t accept the fact I was his stepdad.”
One time, he was sleeping in bed and he woke up feeling something was off, and Grafton was standing there “on my side of the bed staring in the dark, standing over me in the dark.”
He said it all frightened his family and claimed that Thomas once “put hands on” his young son. “My son had a bruised rib cage.” Again, he didn’t call the police so as not to upset Thomas’s mother, his then wife, he says. “It scarred my son for life.”
Kennedy says he split with Thomas’s mom in 2014. They are divorced, and he is remarried.
Of Thomas, he added, “I’ve never known him to have a job. Me and his mom paid his rent, bought his furniture.” He said Thomas played football and was an “aggressive young man.”
He added that people “need to know the truth,” which is why he spoke out. He added that another detail that bothered him about Grafton was that he wouldn’t “talk or socialize. He would just stand there and stare at people. When he is in his territory he becomes dominant. He was very scary. I could have been dead a long time ago.” Kennedy says Grafton threatened to kill him “if I ever did anything to his mom.”
But he added of Thomas: “I feel bad for him because the proper things were not put in place for him.” But he concluded, “He was not a terrorist. There were no hate crimes” in the past. Again, though, he made those comments before the new details on the journals and Internet searches came out – activities authorities say occurred about five years after Kennedy split with Thomas’s mother.
4. Grafton Thomas Was Once Accused of Punching a Police Horse, Reports Say, But His Lawyer Says He Has No Major Convictions
According to Daily Beast, Grafton Thomas was once accused of punching a police horse and that’s just one of several past arrests on his record.
However, his lawyer told the court he has no criminal record although he was accused of “menacing and reckless endangerment charges” last summer in Greenwood Lake, but “those charges were to be dismissed if he avoided legal trouble,” Lohud reports. She did say that he had “a conviction for a driving-related offense,” according to The New York Post.
According to CNN, the attorney told the court that Thomas has been arrested twice in his life. He is now facing five counts of attempted murder, and the videos from Monsey were very distressing.
“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.
The disturbing videos posted to Twitter showed victims on stretchers and chaos at the scene. ABC 7 reported that the rabbi’s home is located next door “to his congregation.” However, later videos showed the rabbi continuing the Hanukkah celebration.
ADL New York/New Jersey wrote early on, “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.”
5. One Witness Said Grafton Thomas, Who Reportedly Lived With His Mother, Pulled Out a Knife & Started to ‘Run at People’ But They Hit Him With Furniture
One witness described the horrific stabbing attack to The New York Post, saying, “He just took it (the knife) out and started to run at people.” The witness said he threw furniture at Thomas.
“I saw him stabbing people and I started throwing chairs and tables,” he told The Post. According to Daily Beast, several people “hit him with chairs and a small table.”
According to The New York Times, after stabbing people in the rabbi’s home, Thomas “tried to enter a synagogue next door, Congregation Netzach Yisroel, which is led by Rabbi Rottenberg.” However, people inside heard screams and had already locked the door, preventing him from entering, The Times reported.
CNN reported, per the suspect’s lawyer, that he lives with his mother. Public records show him tied only to a woman in her 50s who has worked as a nurse, according to her Facebook page.
Kennedy, the stepdad, said the family had roots in Guyana and they went to that country together when Thomas’s grandmother died. He said that Thomas’s mother was born in Guyana and came to Canada first as a child before settling in New York. Thomas was born in the U.S. and is a U.S. citizen, he said.
“At one time he said he was a Crip and Blood, and she was raising him in the city, and he was involved in gangs, so she moved upstate to get away from that atmosphere,” said Kennedy.
Asked if he was still in the gang, Kennedy alleged, “In his mindset, yes. He knows a lot of people. He would make a phone call and they would come and support him.”
“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.”
President Donald Trump tweeted, “The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific. We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery.” 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.”
The suspect “entered Rabbi Rottenburg’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.
Police say Thomas concealed his face with a scarf. He knocked on the rabbi’s door to gain entrance, they say.
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.”
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.” However, police now say Thomas is the lone suspect.
Earlier in the day on December 28, Governor 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.”
Cuomo said on Sunday, “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.”
People took to social media to express their heartbreak over yet another attack.
The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey and the other hate crime incidents against Jewish people in New York also come after a deadly shooting attack on a Jewish deli in Jersey City, New Jersey, on December 11. A man and a woman, motivated by anti-Semitism, fatally shot a detective and killed three civilians.
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