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Jersey City shootout: Mayor says deadly attack on kosher deli was a targeted hate crime

A shootout in Jersey City left one police officer and three others dead after two gunmen exchanged fire with police at JC Kosher Supermarket Dec. 10. (Video: The Washington Post)

JERSEY CITY — The pair had already killed, police say, when their van slowed to a stop on a rain-drenched street opposite the Jersey City Kosher Supermarket and David Anderson jumped out, ready to fire.

Inside the shop — a small store catering to the city’s growing population of ultra-Orthodox Jews — co-owner and mother of three Mindy Ferencz was working alongside an employee. A couple of customers were walking the aisles.

As Anderson, 47, crossed the street, he raised a long-barreled rifle to his shoulder. Within seconds, all four people in the store had been shot. Three would die, the fourth fled and pedestrians rushed for cover behind parked cars amid volleys of gunfire that would climb into the hundreds of rounds.

Authorities initially portrayed the Tuesday afternoon shooting as a horrific, if seemingly random, crime.

But that picture changed Wednesday with surveillance video that authorities said indicated the kosher market had been deliberately marked for violence, raising the specter that the shooting was another in a growing national pattern of anti-Semitic attacks.

“I do believe it is a hate crime,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said in an interview. “I used the term ‘anti-Semitism,’ and . . . I do believe that the information that we have at this time supports that.”

Across the Hudson River, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio agreed, calling the killings “an act of terror.”

“This confirms a sad truth,” de Blasio said of the attack that claimed the lives of two New York natives. “There is a crisis of anti-Semitism gripping this nation.”

Investigators would not go as far as the mayors, saying more digging was needed before ascribing a motive.

Photos from the scene of a deadly shooting in Jersey City

Dec. 12, 2019 | Police officers stand guard near the scene of a shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City. Investigators are looking to pinpoint what prompted the deadly attack on the Jewish market amid fears that it was motivated by anti-Semitism. (Seth Wenig/AP)

If confirmed as an anti-Semitic attack, Tuesday’s shooting would follow a pair of deadly attacks at U.S. synagogues within the past 14 months: one near San Diego that left one person dead in April, and one in October 2018 at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that claimed 11 lives.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said this fall that the United States was on pace for a record number of anti-Semitic incidents this year.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive, said Wednesday that more investigation into the Jersey City attack was needed but that it appeared to be “another incident in a long line of violent incidents targeting the Jewish community. This hatred is a disease, and right now, we are experiencing an epidemic.”

Tuesday’s killings were reminiscent of a 2015 attack in Paris in which a gunman stormed a kosher supermarket and killed four people, all of them Jewish.

As with that attack, which followed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo magazine, the shooting at Jersey City’s kosher market came after an earlier spasm of violence.

Police say the attackers began Tuesday’s killings at a local cemetery, fatally shooting veteran Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals — a father of five — who had approached a U-Haul van because it had been reported stolen and linked to a weekend homicide.

The assailants then slowly drove the van for five minutes to the kosher market on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, which is next to a synagogue, across the street from a Catholic school and down the block from a mosque.

The attack set off an hours-long gun battle with police. By the end of the day, six people would be dead, and the Jewish community on both sides of the Hudson River would be in mourning. The bodies of the attackers — Anderson and an accomplice, identified by police as Francine Graham, 50 — were recovered amid the wreckage of the store, which was littered with shattered glass and hundreds of ammunition casings.

Authorities refused to discuss the assailants’ political affiliations or their motivations for the attack but did say Anderson and Graham were also suspects in the killing of Michael Rumberger, a 34-year-old livery driver found dead in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car in nearby Bayonne, N.J., on Saturday.

The three store victims were identified as Ferencz, a 31-year-old who owned the shop with her husband; Moshe Deutsch, a customer who was the 24-year-old son of a prominent Jewish community leader; and an employee named by police as Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49.

Hundreds of Jersey City community members attended the Dec. 11 funeral of Mindy Ferencz, one of the bystanders killed during the Dec. 10 shootout. (Video: The Washington Post)

Moishe and Mindy Ferencz had opened the market to cater to Jersey City’s growing Jewish community, which includes many ­Hasidic families like theirs his who left pricey Brooklyn for cheaper living.

But the supermarket was also a place for anyone and everyone to grab “basics” such as coffee or sandwiches, said Victoria Ferencz, Moishe’s mother. It was a friendly place, she said, where people knew to call if they needed anything.

Victoria Ferencz said her son heard the first shots Tuesday from the nearby synagogue, having stepped out of the market minutes before. With the synagogue in lockdown, he was trapped there into the evening. He didn’t know that the violence was unfolding at his store or that his wife — mother of their children, ranging in age from 4 to 11 — was shot dead inside. He called Mindy repeatedly. So did his mother. No one answered.

Authorities said there could have been more victims had two officers working nearby not rushed to the scene, where they were immediately met with shots from a high-powered rifle.

As police and the assailants traded fire, hundreds of children in nearby schools were on lockdown until late into the afternoon. Two officers were shot but later released from a hospital.

Nearly three hours after the shootout began, police drove an armored vehicle into the store. The incident ended 22 minutes later.

Police found a pipe bomb in the U-Haul van, said Gregory Ehrie, FBI special agent in charge at the Newark field office. Ehrie said the device was capable of exploding and was “not complicated but sophisticated in the sense that time and effort went into creating it.”

The United Jewish Organizations of Williamsburg and North Brooklyn — where Deutsch’s father is a board member — released a statement decrying the “hate that springs up all over” and had “now cut short lives so close to home.” Ferencz had been a “pioneer” of the expanding Jewish community in Jersey City, the UJO said. She and her husband had moved there from Williamsburg and opened the first kosher store in the area to ensure their friends and neighbors had somewhere to shop.

“A life of selflessness, and dedication to others, full of love, was cut short by vicious hate-filled murders,” the statement said.

The UJO described Deutsch as a “promising” young man who was generous and dedicated to studying his Jewish faith. He followed in the footsteps of his father, board member Abe Deutsch, and helped to organize the UJO’s Passover food distribution.

A Bergen Record news report said Rodriguez, the employee, was an Ecuadoran immigrant with a wife and 11-year-old daughter.

“He was an excellent person, the pastor at Rodriguez’s church, Williams Machazek, told the ­Record. “He really looked out for his family, and they were inseparable.”

Seals, 40 years old and a 15-year veteran of the Jersey City force, was described as a “good cop” who in recent years had led the police department in the number of illegal guns taken off the streets.

Dramatic footage shows authorities responding to an active shooter situation that left at least one dead on Dec. 10 in Jersey City. (Video: Khalid McClenton via Storyful)

Fulop, who is Jewish, called Jersey City “the golden door to America” and said that “hate and anti-Semitism have never had a place” there.

At a news conference, the state’s attorney general, Gurbir S. Grewal, called the attack an affront to the United States’ multicultural values — especially Jersey City’s.

“It’s a city of Chinese grocers and Indian shopkeepers and recent college graduates, all striving for a better life in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty,” he said.

Victoria Ferencz said Wednesday that she was not sure whether her son would reopen his market and was at a loss why anyone would have targeted it — or her family.

“Nobody,” she said, “had anything against them.”

Knowles, Mettler, Thebault and Witte reported from Washington. Shayna Jacobs in Jersey City; Deanna Paul and Sarah Pulliam Bailey in New York City; and Frances Stead Sellers, Julie Tate, Alice Crites and Mark Berman in Washington contributed to this report.

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