MONSEY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Bail was set at $5 million for the man charged with trying to kill Jews celebrating Chanukah in Rockland County on Saturday night.
Grafton Thomas, 37, of Greenwood Lake, N.Y., is accused of storming into a synagogue with a machete at around 10 p.m. He has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary.
Police have not released information on a possible motive, CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported.
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The attack is being met with shock, and with determination to not live in fear.
Thomas said nothing as a lawyer entered his not guilty plea Sunday to five counts of attempted murder, just 13 hours after he allegedly attacked a group of worshipers marking the seventh night of Chanukah at the synagogue, which also doubles as the Monsey home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg.
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Witnesses said Thomas barged through the front door and pulled out a long sword or machete.
“I just saw him start to hit whoever he could,” Israel Klaus said. “I started immediately to run out the back door.”
“He started running into the big room, which was on the left side. And I throw tables and chairs that he should get out of here,” Aron Kohn said.
“He took out his knife from a holder and started hitting people back and forth. He didn’t say anything. He screamed after me when I came out here. He screamed after me, ‘Hey you! I’ll get you.’ That’s about it,” Josef Gluck added.
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On Sunday, Gluck met with Rabbi Rottenberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, telling them how despite his shock he managed to get the license plate number off the suspect’s sedan, described as gray Nissan Sentra, as he fled.
Thomas allegedly led law enforcement on a two-hour cross-county search before officers finally caught him in Harlem. The arrest reportedly happened shortly after midnight. NYPD officers Mattera and Radziwon stopped the suspect and took him into custody near West 144th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard.
Last night, a keen eye & quick response by @NYPD32Pct cops led to the apprehension of a suspect wanted in connection with the horrific attack at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey.
Outstanding work by Officers Radziwon & Mattera. pic.twitter.com/yyZ6sZEOsS
— Commissioner Shea (@NYPDShea) December 29, 2019
Sources said Thomas had blood on his clothes and smelled of bleach after apparently trying to wash away evidence, Aiello reported. Early Sunday morning, Thomas was taken to the 32nd Precinct, where he was led out the front door in handcuffs, put into the back of an unmarked car and taken back to Rockland County.
“We’re looking at a string of deadly attacks on the Jewish community over the last 18 months. We’re talking about Pittsburgh. We’re talking about Poway. We’re talking about Jersey City and now Monsey, unfortunately,” said Alexander Rosemberg of the Anti-Defamation League. “The community is, of course, fearful. The community is also resilient. Everyone is trying to demonstrate that going on with their lives is the best possible thing that they can do to demonstrate that.”
To show light overcoming darkness, a long-planned celebration for new Torah scrolls took place as scheduled in Monsey. A joyful noise filled the streets just hours after the frightening crime.
Light over darkness – joy in Monsey as new Torah scrolls are delivered. Pre-planned celebration proceeds just hours after attempted murder of Jews at home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg. pic.twitter.com/EaxXaIIT1N
— Tony Aiello (@AielloTV) December 29, 2019
Four Jewish male victims required treatment at area hospitals and one is listed in critical condition. Cuomo has ordered the New York State Police to increase patrols in order to provide some measure of reassurance to the community.
In addition to the state police Hate Crimes Task Force investigating the attack, New York Attorney General Letitia James said, “There is zero tolerance for acts of hate of any kind and we will continue to monitor this horrific situation.”
In New York City, the NYPD’s counterterrorism bureau said it was “closely monitoring” the investigation.