GREENWOOD LAKE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — The suspect in Saturday night’s Chanukah celebration attack lives in Orange County.
On Sunday, sources told CBS2’s Dave Carlin he’s had run-ins with the law before, but nothing close to the level of violence he’s accused of in this attack.
Many things are not yet known about Grafton Thomas, particularly a motive. In his white prison jumpsuit on Sunday, the 37-year-old pleaded not guilty to attempted murder but added nothing.
A search for answers is what brought detectives to a home he shared with his mother in Greenwood Lake, an upstate village about 20 miles from the Rockland County town of Monsey, where the alleged attack happened.
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Thomas is accused of storming into a synagogue and stabbing five people with a long sword or machete. Police said he then fled the scene and was arrested a few hours later in Harlem.
Greenwood Lake Mayor Jesse Dwyer told Carlin he knows the suspect. The two played basketball together in community parks back when both attended different high schools.
“He was a very nice guy, and like anybody else in Greenwood Lake he liked to play basketball about 20 years ago,” Dwyer said. “And just down the street here in Greenwood Lake, he was just like anybody else. Growing up in a small town everybody knew everyone’s names and faces. My wife, believe it or not, was the one who saw his face in the paper today or online and said, ‘That’s Thomas. We knew him.'”
Mayor Dwyer said he did not keep up with Thomas after high school, and could not confirm reports Thomas played college football at a New Jersey university in 2005 and 2006.
“No one would have ever suspected that he would be capable of committing such a heinous crime,” Dwyer said.
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Neighbors said they saw Thomas in front of the home and on the street but that he kept to himself.
“Things like this don’t happen here. Well, everybody says that, but it’s a nice quiet area,” resident Tom Barnhart said.
“This individual lives here, right here in Greenwood Lake, and we will do all we can to make sure that the residents of the area and Orange County, all around, have proper education and not hate but rather love,” added Rabbi Meir Borenstein of Chabad of Orange County..
Law enforcement officials said Thomas was arrested before in New York and New Jersey for alleged crimes like menacing and marijuana possession.
Detectives have revealed nothing to explain why this man, from a quiet village, allegedly added bloodshed, trauma and alarm to hate-crime weary communities.
On Sunday night, Thomas’ new attorney, Michael Sussman, released to the media a statement from the Thomas family. It reads in part: “Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”
The family goes on to say they are instructing Sussman to seek an immediate mental health evaluation of Thomas.