Authorities in Jersey City are investigating a Tuesday mass shooting that left six people dead as domestic terrorism and a hate crime “fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs,” the state attorney general said.
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal and federal authorities confirmed Thursday that video evidence shows the two assailants slowly drove a U-Haul truck down the street and appeared to stop specifically in front of the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket. They were then captured on video “aiming their fire” at Jews and members of law enforcement during a three-hour shootout, Grewal said at a news conference in Jersey City.
Grewal also confirmed earlier reports that the assailants had expressed interest in a radical group and “held views that reflected hatred of the Jewish people, as well as the hatred of law enforcement.” He said officials were working to authenticate social media accounts that appear to have belonged to the shooters and to determine how they may have been linked to the Black Hebrew Israelites movement, but he said officials believed the pair were acting on their own.
In addition, authorities confirmed the assailants used semiautomatic weapons, including an AR-15, and said hundreds of shell casings were found in and around the the supermarket. Grewal said it remains unclear why the shooters targeted the store.
The news conference came a day after thousands of mourners gathered at funerals in Brooklyn and Jersey City for two of the victims who practiced Orthodox Judaism. In accordance with Jewish tradition, burials typically take place as soon as possible after death.
What we know about the motive
The attackers were identified as David N. Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, who are believed to have been a couple. Grewal said investigators have evidence both expressed interest in the Black Hebrew Israelites, a movement made up of a web of semiautonomous sects. But he said officials had not definitively established formal links to the group and believed the two shooters “were acting on their own.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center has deemed Black Hebrew Israelites a hate group. Their followers believe the true descendants of the Israelites are black, Native, and Hispanic people, and the group is known for aggressively preaching on the sidewalk. A leader of the Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge said the group’s chapters in Philadelphia and elsewhere adhere to a doctrine of nonviolence.
Anderson had indicated on social media that he held favorable sentiments toward anti-Semitic groups, according to Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop. Inside the rental van — in addition to a “viable” pipe bomb — officials found a rambling note. The New York Times reported that the note didn’t offer a clear motive, but indicated Anderson believed he was carrying out “God’s will.” Grewal said Thursday that investigators had “not discovered anything like a manifesto.”
Grewal on Thursday stopped short of saying Anderson and Graham had a broader plot to inflict harm in more than the grocery store, but he said they had “a tremendous amount of firepower and they had a pipe bomb in the van. … They could have done more.”
Law enforcement officials recovered five guns connected to the couple, four found inside the supermarket and one found inside the van. Inside the market, police found two handguns, an AR-15-style weapon, which they believe Anderson was carrying upon entrance, and a Mossberg 12-gauge shotgun, which they believe Graham was carrying. Inside the van, they said, was a .22-caliber Ruger Mark IV with a “homemade silencer” and “a homemade device to catch shell casings.” Police have traced two of the guns to purchases Graham made at gun shops in Ohio in spring 2018.
Anderson had a previous criminal record and spent time incarcerated on weapons charges. But Graham, according to the Times, was described by a neighbor as “a polite, diligent, hardworking home health aide.” The neighbor suggested Graham was coerced by Anderson, saying he “came out of nowhere and flipped her life around.”
While Grewal and investigators were initially hesitant to label the killings a hate crime or the result of anti-Semitism, Fulop, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, has repeatedly called the shooting as such, citing video evidence that he says shows the assailants clearly targeting the supermarket. “We shouldn’t parse words on whether this is a hate crime at this point,” he said in a tweet.
Evan Bernstein, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said before Thursday’s news conference that "if this was truly a targeted killing of Jews, then we need to know that right away, and there needs to be the pushing back on this at the highest levels possible.”
The attack was about a month after the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue, which left 11 people dead and is considered the deadliest-ever attack on the Jewish community on American soil.
What we know about the victims
Mindel Ferencz, 31, who co-owned the market alongside her husband, was inside the store and killed during the firefight. Her husband was not there at the time. The couple had three children and moved to Jersey City about three years ago to be part of the small Orthodox Jewish community there, according to Ferencz’s brother-in-law, Meir Ferencz. Wednesday, when Ferencz was buried, had apparently been her oldest son’s 11th birthday.
Moshe Deutsch, 24, a rabbinical student who lived in Brooklyn, was shopping inside the store. He was a dedicated volunteer with Chai Lifeline, a New York City-based nonprofit that provides programming for children with cancer and other life-threatening diseases.
Douglas Miguel Rodriguez was a 49-year-old store employee who lived in Harrison, N.J. He was married and had an 11-year-old daughter. A regular shopper at the store told the Times: “He loved everything about this country. He was so happy to be here. He had big dreams for his family.”
Detective Joseph Seals, 40, a 15-year law enforcement veteran and a father of five, confronted the assailants and was killed in a shootout. He had in recent years led the department in removing illegal guns from the streets.
Investigators say Anderson and Graham are also suspected to have killed a fifth person: Michael Rumberger, 34, of Jersey City, whose body was found beaten in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car in Bayonne on Saturday. The Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office said he died of “massive head trauma.”
Staff writers Ellie Silverman, Jeff Gammage, and Justine McDaniel contributed to this article. It also contains information from the Associated Press.