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Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Massive shootout leaves six dead, including a police detective, three bystanders, HY”D, and the two shooters, as kosher grocery is targeted.

Officials say that it could take months to complete their investigation of a shooting inside a kosher market in Jersey City that took the lives of three victims, including a young mother who lived in the fledgling chasidic community and a Brooklyn man in his 20s. Early reports by officials said that the incident did not appear to be a terror attack, but hours later, Jersey City’s mayor announced that the store had been intentionally targeted by the suspects, both of whom died at the scene.

NBC News reported that the bloodbath began at approximately 12:30 p.m. when Detective Joseph Seals pulled over a U-Haul truck bearing stolen license plates linked to a Bayonne murder that took place last weekend. Seals, a 40-year-old father of five and a 15-year veteran of the Jersey City Police Department, was fatally shot as he approached the van near the Bayview Cemetery on Garfield Avenue.

The two suspects, a man and a woman, then drove to the Jersey City Kosher Market located on Martin Luther Boulevard 1 mile away, firing their weapons into the store from the sidewalk before barricading themselves inside and launching a high-powered rifle shooting spree that lasted for hours. Jersey City Councilman Jermain Robinson told News 12 that the gunfire was unlike anything he had ever heard before, the shots “going and going and going without a pause.” It was reported that over 100 bullets were fired.

According to Hamodia, Boro Park resident Yossie Steinmetz had just left the grocery and gone next door to the Kahal Adas Greenville synagogue when the shots rang out. Steinmetz, grocery owner Moshe Dovid Ferenz whose wife Leah Mindel was in the store, and two others were trapped in the shul, the four men saying Tehillim as the gunfire continued.

“To me it seemed like a scene out of Afghanistan, with shots flying back and forth,” said Steinmetz.

Hamodia also reported that a Jewish man in his mid-20s was sitting in his car by the grocery when he saw the suspects exit their van and fire their first shots into the store. The unnamed man found himself trapped in the crossfire for a full 20 minutes and he sheltered on the floor of his car as gunshots rang out from all sides until he was rescued by an armored SWAT truck.

More than two dozen area schools were placed on lockdown including a cheder located upstairs from the shul. Heavily armed members of law enforcement stormed the area as the shooting continued, the NYPD, the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the Port Authority Police among the numerous agencies that joined local police in their efforts to bring the situation under control. Officials said that the suspects had a large supply of ammunition as well as a makeshift pipe bomb inside the U-Haul.

The shooting dragged on for four hours, with minimal information making its way out of the grocery. One victim who sustained non-life threatening injuries and managed to escape through the store’s back entrance was able to provide some details as he was transported to Cornell Hospital. Steinmetz, who climbed over the backyard fence separating the synagogue and the store an hour after shots first rang out said that he could see one person laying face down near the grocery’s rear doorway.

Police finally managed to storm the market at approximately 4:30 p.m., where they found three dead in the store, including the two shooters. Two police officers were injured in the shooting, which claimed the lives of 33-year-old Leah Mindel Ferenz of Jersey City, 24-year-old Moshe Hersch Deutch of Williamsburg and another male victim who has not been identified at this time.

The two Jewish murder victims are believed to be cousins. Ferenz, a mother of five, was originally from Williamsburg; she and her husband were among the first chasidic families to move to Jersey City. Deutch was remembered by those who knew him as an exceptional person and a volunteer for the annual Bike 4 Chai charity fundraiser as well as Chai Lifeline’s Achim B’Yachad division that caters to the chasidic community. Achim B’Yachad director Hershey Katz described Deutch’s loss as devastating.

“Moshe dedicated his life to chesed and to helping others,” said Katz. “He was always helping others and always available to lend a hand at any event or program.”

Approximately 40 children were in the cheder when the shooting occurred. They were visited by a JCPD officer after the ordeal ended who told them through a Yiddish translator, “You guys were very brave and acted correctly today. I wish you guys a happy holiday. You guys are all safe and you are good to go home with your parents when your parents come here.”

The investigation is being handled by the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office. While officials were reluctant to release details of the ongoing investigation, Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop took to Twitter on Tuesday night, contradicting earlier reports that the incident was not believed to be a hate crime by saying the kosher store had been intentionally targeted. Fulop said that extra police resources would be dedicated to the Jewish community as a precautionary measure and there was no evidence of any additional threats in the area. A short time later, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that he would be stepping up patrols at “key locations in the Jewish community” with further measures to be taken in the wake of the shooting. The Lakewood Police Department also reported that it has stepped up patrols, with municipal counter terrorism coordinator Lieutenant Leroy Marshall working closely with local, county and state officials to ensure public safety. Public information officer Captain Greg Staffordsmith issued a statement reminding area residents to contact the authorities if they observe any suspicious behavior.

Turning to social media again on Wednesday morning, Fulop said that the determination that the store had been singled out by the gunmen had been based on “extensive review” of surveillance footage. According to Fulop, two JCPD officers who were patrolling on foot one block from the grocery responded immediately and likely saved lives by preventing the shooters from leaving the store and gunning down additional victims. A specific motive has not yet been identified.

Misaskim founder and director Yanky Meyer spent hours on site working with authorities to ensure that the bodies were removed as swiftly as possible, with special care taken to ensure their dignity as required by Jewish law. By Wednesday morning, the bodies were taken to the medical examiner’s office, a timeline that Meyer said was very expeditious under the circumstances.

“They moved at a record pace,” remarked Meyer. “They understand the pressure and called in extra people so that everything could happen quickly. New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal and his team have also been great. They understood the magnitude of this so that the victims could be brought to kever Yisrael, a proper Jewish burial, as soon as possible.”

New Jersey police chaplain Rabbi Abe Friedman also credited Grewal for his efforts, which included a personal visit to the scene of the shooting. Friedman noted that New Jersey’s highest-ranking officials, including Governor Phil Murphy, State Police Superintendent Colonel Pat Callahan and Homeland Security Secretary Director Jared Maples also came to Jersey City to show their support, staying late into the night to help expedite the burials.

On Wednesday morning, the shooters were identified as David Anderson, a one-time follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, and Francine Graham, according to News 4 New York. Officials said there were anti-Semitic and anti-police postings on Anderson’s social media pages. Whether Anderson himself posted the material is under investigation.

The deadly rampage has sent shockwaves through Jersey City and beyond. Murphy praised Detective Seals as a hero in a Tuesday night press conference, extending his sympathies to the fallen officer’s family and speaking briefly about the innocent victims in the store, who found themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“We offer our condolences to their families, especially at this time of year when families should be coming together in celebration, not coming together in grief,” said Murphy.

Chai Lifeline’s crisis division, Project Chai, sent more than two dozen specialists to Jersey City and is working closely with schools and parents in the wake of the attack. In addition to issuing guidelines to help children cope with the tragedy (https://blog.chailifeline.org/project-chai-response-to-nj-terror/), professional counselors are on standby to offer their assistance in English and Yiddish at their 24-hour hotline 855-3-CRISIS or via email at [email protected]

Taking to Facebook to speak about the day’s events, Robinson made an emotional appeal to the public as he spoke about the reckless disregard for human life, saying, “Please, I’m asking you: keep Jersey City in your prayers.”

By Sandy Eller