NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Hundreds of mourners gathered at a funeral procession in Brooklyn Monday for an Orthodox rabbi who was shot and killed as he walked to a Miami synagogue over the weekend.
A crowd surrounded the hearse on a blocked-off street as it pulled up outside the Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters, at 770 Eastern Pkwy. in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, for the procession of Rabbi Joseph Raksin.
The 60-year-old rabbi was described as a peace-loving man.
PHOTOS: Rabbi Joseph Raksin Funeral
CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes spoke Monday with Raskin’s family and friends, who were still trying to make sense of his murder.
“I am experiencing a deep, tremendous feeling of sorrow; loss,” said Raskin’s brother-in-law, Isaac Neworth.
Neworth could not believe his brother was gone.
“We were very close,” Neworth said. “He was an amazing individual. He personified goodness, kindness, those ideals.”
Raksin was in Miami visiting relatives when police said he was confronted by two men and shot while walking to a synagogue on Saturday.
“My kids are hysterically crying,” Neworth said. “He was the uncle that always was the hugs; pat on the head; the one with the nice story.”
Rabbi Kalman Shor spoke to Raskin on Friday – just one day before the shooting.
“I’m in a fog. I’m literally in a fog until today,” Shor said. “It’s unbelievable that this thing happened.”
Meanwhile, a witness, Jean-Louis Denis, said he heard the gunshot in Miami and ran to help.
“I told him my name, I told him to stay quiet and that everything was going to be fine and unfortunately it was different,” said Denis.
Raksin’s son-in-law and grandchildren were walking just blocks behind him when he was killed.
“I came after the fact, I saw my father-in-law on the ground,” said Izzy, who did not want to give his last name. “My kids saw him on the ground, thank God they didn’t know it was him at the time.”
Police said the shooting appeared to be a robbery gone badly.
“It would appear, initially, early observations that it could be perhaps a robbery,” Hector Llevat, head of the homicide bureau for Miami-Dade police, said Monday. “This gentleman was an observant, religious man and so information is that he did not or would not have a wallet or anything of value on him at that moment.”
But family members think it was a hate crime, pointing to the fact that just days ago, someone painted a large red swastika and the word “Hamas” outside a temple not far from where the shooting happened.
“There’s a lot of anti-Semitism going on in that community, especially what happened with the synagogue there a few days ago,” the victim’s son-in-law Leib Ezaguy said.
Two symbols of hate were also discovered scrawled on a sport-utility vehicle owned by the wife of a South Florida rabbi. The couple found a swastika and a German iron cross scratched into their vehicle when they returned home after attending a service for Raksin on Sunday night.
Authorities said there was no indication the shooting was a hate crime.
“There are no indications that it was a hate crime or related to a hate crime, however we are not closing that door and we’re not ruling anything out,” Llevat said.
As the procession for Raskin passed by the Chabad Lubavitch headquarters on Monday, some mourners wiped tears while others bowed their heads in silent prayer.
“He was an amazing person; a gentle soul; very quiet; very respectful,” said the rabbi’s former neighbor, Shulamit Steagman.
That was why loved ones had no idea how Raskin could be the victim of such a horrendous crime – especially when he wasn’t carrying anything valuable.
“Even robbers know that Hasidic Jews in a neighborhood like North Miami Beach do not carry wallets on Shabbos,” said friend Rabbi Shea Hecht.
“Let’s hope they find the killer or killers and bring them to justice,” said congregant Yaakov Stern.
The rabbi was taken to Old Montefiore Cemetery in St. Albans, Queens for burial Monday afternoon.
Meanwhile in Miami, police were searching for two young suspects. One was apparently on a bicycle and the other on foot.
Llevat said he has a whole team of homicide detectives working to find the two men.
“The more information we get, the better. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s insignificant. If you heard something, if you know somebody, any information that you have that could potentially connect the dots to bring these people to justice,” Llevat told Natalia Zea of WFOR-TV, Miami. “We share in the community’s urgency to find the perpetrators of this act.”
In Miami, anyone with information was asked to contact the Miami-Dade Police Homicide Bureau at (305) 471-2400 or if they wish to remain anonymous, to contact Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers at (305) 471-TIPS.
The Anti-Defamation League has been working with investigators to solve the crime.
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