Dec. 30, 2019 (UPI) — A suspect is in custody after five people were wounded during a Hanukkah celebration in a rabbi’s home in suburban New York City late Saturday.
On Sunday, Grafton E. Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Thomas, an African-American man, was ordered held on $5 million bail, and his next court appearance is Friday.
Around 10 p.m. Saturday on the seventh night of the Jewish holiday, police said, a suspect armed with a large blade entered the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg in Monsey, a town of about 18,000 residents. Around midnight, Thomas was located 30 miles south in New York’s Harlem after a traffic stop in a gray Nissan and taken into custody by the New York Police Department.
Rottenberg heads an Orthodox Hasidic congregation, Netzach Yisroel, and his home is next door. Among those wounded was the rabbi’s son. Another person was in critical condition with wounds to the head.
Two victims were taken to Good Samaritan Hospital and three went to Westchester Medical Center.
“It is important for me to express to the rabbi and to all the people of the state of New York that this is intolerance meets ignorance meets illegality,” said New York Mayor Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who visited with the rabbi Sunday morning. “This is an intolerant time in this country. We see anger and we see hatred exploding.”
Cuomo, noting it was the 13th incident of anti-Semitism in the state in the past few weeks, directed the State Police hate crimes task force to investigate the incident.
In Monsey on Nov. 20, a 30-year-old rabbi was stabbed on his way to a synagogue just before dawn
Also, three people were killed during a shooting at a Jersey City kosher market earlier this month.
Sen. Chuck Schumer said Sunday he was briefed on the situation by the Federal Bureau of investigation, which he said he asked to investigate any possible links, either directly or indirectly, between this attack and the others that have recently targeted the Jewish community.
“We must not, and cannot, tolerate these senseless attacks, and we must get to the bottom of why they are occurring in order to prevent them in the first place,” Schumer said in a statement. “No American — and no New Yorker — should be subjected to the kind of terror and pain the people of Monsey and the New York Jewish community now bears.”
NYPD said Friday it was increasing patrols because of an increase in anti-Semitic incidents this month.
Earlier Saturday, the Guardian Angels, a private, unarmed crime-prevention group, said that it would start patrolling New York City’s Brooklyn borough on Sunday due to the recent attacks.
“I am deeply disturbed by the situation unfolding in Monsey, New York tonight,” State Attorney General Letitia James posted on Twitter on Saturday night. 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, whose daughter Ivanka converted to Judaism, 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.”
About 100 people were in the home as the rabbi was lighting the candles for the holiday.
Witness Aron Kohn said the suspect walked into the rabbi’s residence and attacked with a knife almost as big as “a broomstick.”
“I saw him walking in by the door,” Kohn told WABC-TV. “I asked who was coming in in the middle of the night with an umbrella. While I was saying that, he pulled it out from the thing and he started to run into the big room, which was on the left side. And I had thrown tables and chairs, that he should get out of here. And the injured guy, he was bleeding here, bleeding in his hand, all over.
“I ran into the other room to save my life. I saw him running this way, so I ran the other way to save my life. He said something but I could not understand what he said. I saw him pull out the knife from the holder, the case.”
After being chased from the home, the suspect tried to get into the synagogue but was blocked by a barricade.
Fifty to 60 people were inside the synagogue at the time.