NEW SQUARE, NY (CBSNewYork) — The family of a Rockland County man horribly burned in an arson attack is now asking state and federal law enforcement for help.
CBS 2’s Lou Young spoke with the victim’s wife Wednesday in New Square, where she said her husband’s screams still echo in her ears.
“I heard such screeching, I was sure it was 100 people killing him,” Ruth Rottenburg said.
The wife of burn victim Arron Rottenburg said she was warned, both on the phone and in person, to move voluntarily or be forced out of New Square. The dispute started when her husband defied New Square’s grand rebbe, David Twersky, and prayed in a synagogue outside the community.
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“Me and the girls pray in the synagogue, and I said, ‘leave us alone, don’t mix in two different issues,’” she said. “They said, ‘if you don’t move out, the house won’t be worth a penny.’ They didn’t say the word ‘burn the house,’ they said it ‘won’t be worth a penny.’”
Lawyers hired by the family inspected the crime scene Wednesday, publicly calling for a state and federal civil rights probe of the insular Skver Hasidic sect. There was heckling during the news conference.
“They have a right to determine where they want to pray in America. If you don’t want to respect that right, you can go back to Eastern Europe and try to have a different society,” the Rottenbergs’ attorney, Michael Sussman, said.
The only suspect arrested in the arson attack was 18-year-old Shaul Spitzer, who lived in the grand rebbe’s home. Authorities believed he was planning to burn down the Rottenbergs’ home.
Rockland County Executive Scott Vanderhoef says the whole situation was very concerning.
“It’s very disturbing when violence takes place anywhere. That’s the purpose of this country, to allow freedom of religion, so something needs to be worked out – and yes, I am concerned,” said Vanderhoef.
The religious leadership issued a written statement decrying the violence.
“’This is against the Bible and against American law,’” religious journalist Yossi Gestetner translated from the statement.
“I stay in my house, and I cook, and I bake, and I don’t look at anybody,” Ruth Rottenburg said. “I’m terrified of everybody.”
Rottenburg, who has lived in New Square for 38 years, said her husband’s break with Rabbi Twersky came six months ago.
Ramapo police said they will question the rabbi himself in connection with the pattern of events that led up to Sunday’s attack.
Arron Rottenburg underwent five hours of skin graft surgery at Westchester Medical Center on Tuesday. He remained in serious condition Wednesday night.
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