Investigators combed through a New York home looking for anything that may help them understand what drove a man to allegedly barge into a rabbi’s house 40 minutes away and stab five people.
“We’re going to know more in the next day or two,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told CNN Sunday about the investigation. “We need to know what motivated this individual. As we see this spread of hate crimes, we need to understand what’s going on.”
In a statement released by suspect Grafton Thomas’ attorney, his family said he has a “long history of mental illness and hospitalizations” and they have directed his attorney to seek an “immediate mental health evaluation” for Thomas.
“He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races,” the statement said.
Witnesses inside the home described a suspect who wielded a huge knife — one person said it was like “a broomstick” — and stabbed people indiscriminately.
“He didn’t say anything. He screamed after me when I came out here. He screamed after me ‘Hey you, I’ll get you.’ That’s about it,” another witness, Josef Gluck, told CNN affiliate WLNY.
The five people who were injured inside Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s home were all Hasidic Jews, the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council for the Hudson Region Valley said on Twitter after the attack.
One of them was the rabbi’s son, who is recovering, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. Another of the victims suffered head wounds and was in serious condition, the governor said.
Two victims being treated at Good Samaritan Hospital have been released, hospital spokeswoman Helene Guss told CNN. No additional information on the victims condition was released at this time.
Thomas was arraigned Sunday on five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary, Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said. He pleaded not guilty. His bail was set at $5 million and if released, he has to forfeit any firearms he owns and stay away from the victims and the rabbi’s home, a judge ruled.
Police commissioner praises officers for arrest
When police caught up to Thomas, he had blood on his clothes and smelled strongly of bleach, Rockland County Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Dugandzic said Sunday.
He was arrested about an hour after the attack when a license plate reader captured his Nissan Sentra’s tag as he was crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York City, authorities said.
Two officers blocked his path at an intersection in Harlem — about 28 miles from the site of the stabbings — and arrested him as other police cars converged on the corner, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said Sunday.
Russell Mattera and David Radziwon drew their guns and calmly walked to the car. With his hands raised, Grafton Thomas stepped out and he was handcuffed. The whole thing took about 15 seconds, Shea said.
“I would like to say personally to them as a new Yorker, ‘thank you,'” Shea said. “More importantly, as the police commissioner, I would like to say how proud I am of their work.”
The commissioner also said Sunday that police had already begun increasing deployment to all houses of worship, following a shooting in Jersey City earlier this month in a Jewish market as well as “an increase in swastikas, an increase in hate speech, escalation into shoving” and “some assaults.”
That’s just one of the steps New York is taking to combat the attacks, the city’s mayor said.
“We will keep adding as many measures as it takes to end this crisis,” de Blasio said.
Cuomo also said he directed state police to increase patrols and security in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods across New York State. Saturday’s stabbing marks the latest in a string of at least 13 anti-Semitic acts in New York in the past three weeks, in addition to other hateful incidents targeting the black, Latino and LGBT communities, he said.
The governor has directed the state’s Hate Crime Task Force to investigate the latest attack.
“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.”
County has one of the highest Jewish populations in the US
Rockland County, where the attack took place, has the largest Jewish population per capita of any US county, according to New York state. Almost a third of its population is Jewish.
Monsey, the area where the rabbi’s home was located, is about 40 miles north of Brooklyn.
“They’re not only our neighbors geographically but there’s a deep, deep connection between the Monsey community and New York City, particularly Brooklyn,” De Blasio said. “The attack on that community is an attack on this community and an attack on all of us. We feel it that way.”
The county’s executive, Ed Day, said in a statement shortly after the attack local law enforcement will “leave no stone unturned as they bring those guilty of this crime to swift and severe justice.”
“Getting such a horrific call in the midst of a local holiday celebration is a stark reminder that even in a community as good and serene as ours, evil can visit us,” he said in a post on Facebook. “I stand with the people of this county in condemning this attack and ask all to offer their thoughts, hopes and prayers for a speedy recovery for the victims of this heinous crime.”