A suspect had published anti-Semitic and anti-police social media posts and camera footage suggests the kosher market was targeted, the New York Times reports.
Three members of a small Jewish community and a cherished police officer were killed on Tuesday afternoon in addition to two suspects during a protracted shootout at a kosher supermarket in New Jersey. Witnesses said hundreds of bullets exchanged between shooters and police over more than three hours in a residential area chosen as the new home of a fervently religious community priced out of Brooklyn.
“I must have heard over 300 shots. It was all hell at that point,” said Aaron, a volunteer with the Jewish EMS service, Hatzolah, who arrived on the scene at about 12:30 p.m. and witnessed most of the shooting in and around the JC Kosher Market at 223 Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive. The store serves as the de facto social center of an embryonic Hasidic community in the town just across the Hudson River from Manhattan.
Jersey City police had “no inkling” as to motive, said Police Chief Michael Kelly at a 5:30 p.m. press conference. He did say there was no indication that the shooting was a hate crime. Mayor Steven Fulop said in a different press conference that there was no evidence that the shooting was terrorism-related.
The investigation will take weeks and maybe months, and involves three different crime scenes in addition to a stolen U-Haul that contained an “incendiary device,” Kelly said.
The officer who died, Det. Joseph Seals, was a father of five lauded by Kelly as “our leading police officer in removing guns from the street.”
Initial reports described the incident as the result of a confrontation between undercover police and the shooters related to a drug deal, according to the local ABC affiliate, which cited the police department’s “working theory.”
The JC Kosher Market sits next to a study hall, the Greenville Beis Midrash, also known as the Greenville Shul, and near an affiliated yeshiva. The area around the store is the home of about 70 families, Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jews priced out of Brooklyn, according to an article posted on JC.com about a year ago. The community includes members of the Satmar and Bobov sects, as well as others, according to the Yiddish-language press. It took root in 2016, according to a NJTV News’ YouTube broadcast.
“They’re good people; they’re all right with me,” said Charles, a 50-year resident of Jersey City who used to own a small restaurant about a block and half south of the shooting. “They always speak to me when I go on walks around the neighborhood,” he added.
Owned by Moishe Ferencz, the grocery store has been in operation since July of 2017, according to incorporation documents filed with the New Jersey Department of the Treasury. It has sandwich and salad bars and also sells danishes and coffee, said Abraham, who lives in Brooklyn but works in real estate in Jersey City and declined to give his last name.
Ari, who also lives in Brooklyn but works in construction in the area, said he gets his sandwich at the JC Kosher Market every day at about noon and liked to talk politics with Ferencz, but was luckily late today. A firearms enthusiast who owns 37 guns, Ari said he’d urged the store owner to arm himself.
“I tell him all the time, ‘Buy a gun, get an open carry license, protect yourself,’” said Ari, who also didn’t want to give his last name. “He didn’t listen.”
Across the street from the market is a Christian school, Sacred Heart. Every school in Jersey City was locked down; the lockdown was lifted at about 4:30 p.m.
By about 4:30 p.m., the 40 students in the yeshiva were being evacuated, according to a Yiddish-language tweet from a community member. Hatzolah had been called to the community to help its children process the incident.
The video below was taken by one of the yeshiva staff from the window of one of the classrooms; children in the background can be heard becoming increasingly distressed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Jersey City Police Department, especially with the officers shot during this standoff, and with the residents and schoolchildren currently under lockdown,” said Gov.
Philip D. Murphy in a statement.
Videos posted on social media showed officers heading down Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive toward the store.
Update note: At 7:30 p.m., this story was updated to reflect the fact that there were three Jewish victims of the shooting, not five as previously reported based on statements from two Hatzolah members.
Ari Feldman is a staff writer at the Forward. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @aefeldman
Jordan Kutzik contributed reporting and translation from Yiddish.