One of the victims stabbed during a Monsey Hanukkah celebration last weekend is unlikely to recover, according to statements by his family during a press conference Thursday.
Josef Neumann, 72, is in a coma with a fractured skull, knife wounds through his neck and a shattered arm, said his youngest daughter, Nicky Cohen. She also said doctors “do not have high hopes for him.”
“I’m begging you, if you are watching this, please stand up and stop this hatred. It cannot keep going on,” she said. “All types of hatred against any race, religion, orientation, anything else that anybody can think of, just has to stop.”
The family described Neumann as a “people person” who once pulled over to help a man on the side of the road, eventually driving him where he needed to go. He owned a fish market in Monsey and has seven children, some of whom spoke at today’s press conference.
Neumann’s birthday was December 30, and he had plans to celebrate with his family on Sunday, his daughter said.
Now, he is unconscious in the hospital on a respirator and even if he does wake up, he may not be able to walk, talk or process speech, according to Nicky Cohen. A family statement said he sustained a stab wound that penetrated “directly into the brain.”
One of Neumann’s sons, David, said he and his father regularly gathered on Saturday nights at the Hasidic rabbi’s home where the stabbing occurred. David said he didn’t attend last weekend because his children had been sick and he and his wife wanted to “go out just to, a little bit, clear the mind.”
“If I was there, I would be able to do something, and I would definitely try to do something, but I wasn’t there,” he said through tears at the press conference.
Neumann is one of five Jews stabbed in an attack on the rabbi’s home in the Rockland hamlet of Monsey. The other four victims have been released from hospitals, the New York Times reports. The victims fought off the attacker using furniture, including a coffee table.
One victim, Naftuli Frank, needed 39 staples to close a head wound, New Square Mayor Israel Spitzer told the New York Times. New Square is another Hasidic area in Rockland.
One of the other victims, Shloime Rottenberg, received three staples to close wounds on his head, according to CNN.
The alleged perpetrator, Grafton Thomas, 37, is being held in federal custody and will appear in front of a grand jury in Rockland County on Friday.
Federal prosecutors could seek the death penalty for Thomas if Neumann does not survive, although juries are generally reluctant to sentence defendants to death in New York.
Thomas has pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder at the state level and one count of first-degree burglary. He is also facing five federal counts of obstructing the free exercise of religion in an attempt to kill, and the federal case will be prosecuted first.
But Thomas’ lawyers and family are building their case that he is mentally ill and is not an anti-Semite.
One of Thomas’ lawyers, Michael H. Sussman, said Thomas told him he had heard a voice in his head “about a piece of property” that sent him to the rabbi’s house. His family has said he long struggled with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Thomas joined the marines for two months in 2002 but was injured and left, Sussaman told CNN.
His mother told the New York Post her son helped a Jewish family observe Shabbat by turning off their lights when he was growing up in Crown Heights, and she said she tried to get her son committed to a mental health facility after an arrest last year, but claimed the police “treated it as a criminal case.”
Greenwood Lake Justice Keith Garley, who presided over last year’s case, would not answer questions posed by the Post as to why Thomas did not get the mental health assistance his mother asked for.
Ramapo Police Chief Brad Weidel said in a press conference Thursday that Grafton Thomas was questioned in November about the stabbing of a visibly Jewish man in Monsey. Despite reports to the contrary, Weidel said there is no evidence linking him to that crime.
As the criminal case proceeds against Thomas, Chabad centers in Rockland county have started a fundraiser for the families of the victims like Josef Neumann, who will have a long road to healing and justice.
Against all odds, Neumann’s family is hoping for a miracle:
“We hope he wakes to a changed world with peace, unity and love for all,” said Nicky Cohen.