A suspect has been taken into custody and charged in the machete attack at a Melave Malka Chanukah celebration at around 10:30 pm Saturday night at the home of a Chassidic rabbi in the Forshay section of Monsey, New York.
Thomas Grafton, 37 of Greenwood Lake, New York (about 20 miles from Monsey) was arrested Sunday morning in Harlem and charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary for the alleged anti-Semitic domestic terror attack in the synagogue. He was arraigned in Rockland County, where he pleaded not guilty just before noon during his arraignment in Ramapo town court before Judge Rhoda Schoenberger. He is due to return to court this coming Friday.
Grafton allegedly entered the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg and began swinging the machete. After the attack he tried to make a run to a synagogue next door, but someone locked the door to block him from entering.
A witness who recorded his license plate as he fled, alerted authorities, and was credited with helping make the prompted arrest possible. License plate readers picked up his car as it crossed the George Washington Bridge just after 11 pm Saturday night. NYPD officers made the arrest in Harlem.
Yossi Gestetner, co-founder of the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council in the Hudson Valley, said 15 people were hurt; two who remain in critical condition were still in the hospital as of late Sunday afternoon.
Gestetner said the rabbi’s son was among the victims. All the victims are Chasidic Jews.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo visited the rabbi’s home Sunday morning and later held a news briefing on the attack, calling it evidence of a “cancer in the body politic” and saying it was fueled by intolerance. Cuomo called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism.”
One victim remains in critical condition. The status of the rabbi’s son and the other victims is not yet clear.
Authorities have not revealed a motive for the attack although Cuomo said clearly it is one of hate.
Since Dec. 8, there have been 13 anti-Semitic crimes reported across the state, he told journalists gathered outside the rabbi’s home. “I wish I could say it was an isolated incident. This is a national phenomenon we’re seeing and it’s frightening. It is an American cancer that is spreading in the body politic. Once we become intolerant of differences then we are intolerant with America. Because America is all about differences. We’re all from some place else,” he said.
“At the end of the day it is not just about words, it is against action. Let’s call it what it is. It is domestic terrorism.
“Just because they don’t come from another country doesn’t mean they’re not terrorists,” Cuomo said. “They should be prosecuted as domestic terrorists because that’s what they are.”
Cuomo pledged to be the first in the country to create a new state law that will enable police to charge suspects in similar cases as domestic terrorists.