A masked, machete-wielding man barged into a Hanukkah celebration and stabbed five people at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, New York, on Saturday evening, intensifying fears anti-Semitic violence after a spate of incidents last week.
The assailant escaped but the NYPD quickly picked up a suspect. Law-enforcement sources identified him as Grafton Thomas, 37, who has several previous arrests on his record, including one for punching a police horse. He was turned over to the state police, and will face five counts of attempted murder.
The terrifying ambush—which took place in Rockland County, a northern suburb that has the highest per capita Jewish population in the U.S.—drew swift condemnation from public officials from Israel to Washington. Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it an “act of domestic terrorism.”
According to Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel, a man covering his face with a scarf knocked on the door at Rabbi Rottenburg’s shul during the seventh night of Hanukkah just as the rabbi was lighting the candle. The assailant rushed past the man who answered the door, who said he pulled out a machete and began stabbing people, according to several witnesses.
He is said to have gone after terrified victims as they ran away and tried to access the adjacent synagogue before fleeing the scene after some of the guests hit him with chairs and a small table.
Ramapo Town Police said the suspect was in custody. He reportedly escaped the scene but was arrested in Harlem after being tracked down through the license plate number of his vehicle.
Of the five victims rushed to local hospitals, two of them were in critical condition as of late Saturday, according to the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council for the Hudson Valley region. The organization said one of the victims had been stabbed six times.
Governor Andrew Cuomo called the stabbings a “cowardly act” and directed the State Police Hate Crimes Task Force to investigate the incident.
“Let me be clear: anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate,” Cuomo said in a statement. “In New York we will always stand up and say with one voice to anyone who wishes to divide and spread fear: you do not represent New York and your actions will not go unpunished.”
President Trump addressed the “horrific” bloodshed on Sunday afternoon, in a tweet: “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.”
Yossi Gestetner, a co-founder of the OJPAC for the Hudson Valley region, told The New York Times there were “many dozens of people” celebrating in the home at the time of the attack. “It was a Hanukkah celebration,” he was quoted saying.
Videos said to have been taken by witnesses showed paramedics rushing to treat the victims in a chaotic scene.
The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James released a statement saying she was left “deeply disturbed” by the incident.
“There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation,” James said.
“I stand with the Jewish community tonight and every night.”
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack “horrific.”
“So many Jewish families in our city have close ties to Monsey. We cannot overstate the fear people are feeling right now,” he wrote on Twitter.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also expressed solidarity with the victims during the opening remarks at his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday. “Israel condemns in every sense the latest anti-Semitic incidents and the brutal attack in the middle of Hanukkah at the rabbi’s house in Monsey, New York,” he said. “We will work together in every way with the local authorities in order to help eliminate this phenomena. We offer our help to all countries.”
The attack comes after at least seven other anti-Semitic incidents were reported in New York City this week, prompting the New York City Police Department to increase the number of officers in predominantly Jewish areas. The stabbings also come less than a month after four people were killed in a “targeted” shooting at a Jersey City kosher supermarket that investigators believe was fueled by a “hatred of the Jewish people.”