Calvin Peters, 49, who police say was “known” to the department, reportedly entered the sanctuary and encountered a group of students. According to Crownheights.info, the man appeared “disturbed and was visibly agitated” but spoke with them for a few minutes, witnesses said. He asked them for a Bible, according to the New York Post.
“I want to kill the Jew!” the New York Daily News reported that he screamed.
Suddenly, he pulled out a nine-inch knife and stabbed one of the students, 22-year-old Levi Rosenblat, in the left temple. As he bled, the student ran out of the synagogue seeking help. Friends told the Crown Heights news site that Rosenblat is from Israel.
“He’s a very serious student; he’d been studying all day,” Levi Deutsch, a witness, said according to the New York Post. “He was stabbed in the side of the head. He was conscious, but he was bleeding a lot.”
Rosenblat was transported to Kings County Hospital and is listed in stable condition.
“Tell me if you want me to kill you,” Peters, holding the knife, demanded of the men from the synagogue who calmly surrounded him.
“No, no,” said one.
When police arrived, they engaged in a standoff for several minutes. Officers with their guns pointed ordered Peters to drop the weapon repeatedly as witnesses stood by watching, in some cases pleading with him to cooperate.
Men in the synagogue also appeared to repeatedly ask officers on the scene not to shoot Peters.
According to video of the incident posted by the New York Post and Crownheights.info, the Peters eventually complied and put the knife on a nearby surface.
But as officers went to arrest him, he rushed over to pick up the weapon again. It is unclear from the video what happened next, but as Peters moved around the room in the direction of the officers, one of the officers shot the him once. According to the New York Police Department, the Peters “lunged” at one of the responding officers. The bullet struck him in the torso.
He was transported to Kings County Hospital, where he was later pronounced dead at around 3:15 a.m. Three officers who responded to the scene were treated at New York Methodist Hospital for tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
Peters had a “history of being an emotionally disturbed person,” and “acting out” in other places, according to John Miller, deputy commissioner of intelligence & counter-terrorism for the NYPD.
“While we are very pained by everything that has unfolded, we are very grateful to the police for their quick response and are working closely with the authorities in their ongoing investigation,” said Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Motti Seligson in a statement according to the Daily News. “We commend the heroic efforts of the individuals who were present and took immediate action. If not for their intervention, the outcome could have been, G-d forbid, far worse.”
“We continue to pray for the young man who is in stable condition,” he added.
A spokesman for the NYPD said they could not comment on the investigation, but the hate crime division has been alerted to the incident.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Miller said that in response to concerns from houses of worship after the attack, there will be an enhanced police presence near places of worship in the city as a precaution. But he said there is no evidence to suggest that the attack was more than an “isolated incident.”
“That is to really address those concerns while we sort through the details here, not to suggest that we have any information that this had any connection to anything other than this individual and his problems at this time,” Miller said.
Even so, calls for increased security at the synagogue have already begun. Rabbi Chaim Miller, a decade-long Crown Heights resident, said he would like to see more security at the sanctuary, but worries it will impact the headquarter’s culture of openness, noting that it has always been home to the “weird and the wonderful.”
“One of the reasons I appreciate 770, besides it being the rebbe’s shul, that it’s so welcoming, non-judgmental, it’s got that very relaxed quality to it,” Miller told Haaretz. “This is really a violation of that openness.”
Regulars at the center said they had felt safe thanks to police being stationed nearby, but remain well aware of the fact that threats can manifest without warning, according to Haaretz. In 2008, a Chabad Lubavitch center in Mumbai, India was the scene of a terrorist attack that left six occupants dead.
“People will have to figure out what’s the right way to provide security without diminishing the ability of the community to use the synagogue in the way that they have,” Rabbi Eli Cohen, who prays daily at the center, told Haaretz.
The headquarters remained closed Tuesday morning, but reopened in the afternoon, according to the paper.
[This post has been updated.]