JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Investigators on Thursday were trying to determine whether anti-Semitism was the motive behind a killing spree by two gunmen who killed a police officer before opening fire on a kosher supermarket, fueling a three-hour gunfight that ended in six deaths – including their own.
Authorities now say suspects David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, are also prime suspects in the slaying of a local man found beaten to death in a car trunk in Bayonne on Saturday, three days before the carnage at JC Kosher Supermarket here.
Some officials urged caution in making an anti-Semitic link, and investigators would not say whether the crimes were connected to Tuesday’s bloodshed, which began at about noon when police say the duo killed officer Joseph Seals at Bayview Cemetery. The duo then reportedly drove a mile to JC Kosher Supermarket where they opened fire on the store, killing three people inside. When the shooting stopped, Anderson and Graham were also dead.
Surveillance video, recorded down the street from the supermarket, shows the van parking across from the store and the duo exit, long guns drawn. Guns pointed at the market, the rampage begins as bystanders flee for cover. USA TODAY has not been able to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
Anderson had at one time been a member of the Black Hebrew Israelite group, law enforcement officials told the (Bergen County) Record, which is part of the USA TODAY Network. It includes factions that have been designated as “hate groups” by the watchdogs, including the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.
The group, whose members believe they are descendants of the ancient Israelites, has been known to shout anti-Semitic rhetoric while congregating on the streets of New York City and elsewhere.
The leaders of the Israelite Church of God in Jesus Christ in New York, which is among groups connected to the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, said through an attorney Wednesday that they have no connection to the shooting and do not know the suspects.
“There’s no relationship to the events in Jersey City,” said Gerald Lefcourt, the attorney. “There is no connection whatsoever, no knowledge of the individuals” who were named as suspects.
State Attorney General Gurbir Grewal on Wednesday appeared to tamp down speculation that the shooters were motivated by anti-Semitism, saying it was too early to determine the nature of the attack.
Grewal spoke after Mayor Steve Fulop, citing surveillance video from the scene, said the shooting was a “targeted attack on the Jewish kosher deli.”
Some of the victims live across the Hudson River in New York City, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio described the attack as a “premeditated, violent, anti-Semitic hate crime.” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it a “deliberate attack on the Jewish community.”
Even New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, standing next to Grewal, said the “attack on our Jewish community… is against all 9 million of us who are proud to call ourselves New Jerseyans.”
But Grewal said it was too early in the investigation to make such claims.
“Others may have incomplete or inaccurate information, which can not only cause unnecessary panic in the community, but also undermine the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation,” Grewal said.
Jacob Ferencz, Leah Minda Ferencz’s uncle, said that she and her husband, Moshe, grew up in Kiryas Joel – an Orthodox enclave in Orange County, New York.
“They were a young couple who were dedicated to what they were doing,” Jacob Ferencz said. “They wanted people who moved to Jersey City to have where to shop for groceries.”
Bacon reported from McLean, Va. Contributing: Anthony Zurita, Terrence T. McDonald, Keldy Ortiz, Scott Fallon and Kristie Cattafi, NorthJersey.com; Heather Yakin, (Middletown, N.Y.) Times Herald-Record