MONSEY, N.Y. — A knife-wielding man stormed into a rabbi’s home and stabbed five people as they celebrated Hanukkah in an Orthodox Jewish community north of New York City, an ambush the governor said Sunday was an act of domestic terrorism fueled by intolerance and a “cancer” of growing hatred in America.
Police tracked a fleeing suspect to Manhattan and made an arrest within two hours of the attack Saturday night in Monsey. Grafton E. Thomas had blood all over his clothing, smelled of bleach but said “almost nothing” when officers stopped him, officials said.
An automated license plate reader alerted officers that the suspect’s car had crossed over the George Washington Bridge into New York City about an hour after the attack. Thomas was stopped and taken into custody about 20-30 minutes later, NYPD commissioner Dermot Shea said.
Security camera footage the NYPD made public Sunday night showed two officers approaching Thomas’ sedan with guns drawn before the suspect placed his hands on the roof of the car and he was put in handcuffs.
President Donald Trump condemned the “horrific” attack, saying in a tweet Sunday that “We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism.”
One witness described the attack as a chaotic scene punctuated with panic and screams.
Thomas, 37, was arraigned Sunday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary. Bail was set at $5 million and he remains jailed. He didn’t answer questions as authorities escorted him to a waiting vehicle.
Thomas’ criminal history includes an arrest for assaulting a police horse, according to an official briefed on the investigation who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. A lawyer representing Thomas at the arraignment said he had no convictions.
The Greenwood Lake street where Thomas lived with his mother, about 20 miles from Monsey, was blocked with police tape Sunday as FBI agents and police officers carried items from their home.
The FBI is seeking a warrant to obtain his online accounts and were scouring digital evidence, the official said. They are also looking into his mental health history.
The family’s pastor, the Rev. Wendy Paige, said Thomas has been suffering from mental illness and that his family believes that condition was the cause of the alleged stabbings — not hatred toward Jewish people. She said his family is sorry for the pain he has caused.
The stabbings on the seventh night of Hanukkah left one person critically wounded, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. The rabbi’s son was also injured, he said. Authorities have not provided a motive and Shea said investigators do not believe, at this point, that any other people were involved.
The attack was the latest in a string of violence targeting Jews in the region, including a Dec. 10 massacre at a kosher grocery store in New Jersey. Last month in Monsey, a man was stabbed while walking to a synagogue.
Cuomo said Saturday’s savagery was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in New York since Dec. 8 and endemic of “an American cancer on the body politic.”