Here’s What We Know About The Hanukkah Stabber Who Targeted Orthodox Jews

MONSEY, NY - DECEMBER 29: A member of the Ramapo police stands guard in front of the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. Five people were injured in a knife attack during a Hanuk... MONSEY, NY - DECEMBER 29: A member of the Ramapo police stands guard in front of the house of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg on December 29, 2019 in Monsey, New York. Five people were injured in a knife attack during a Hanukkah party and a suspect, identified as Grafton E. Thomas, as was later arrested in Harlem. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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December 30, 2019 11:22 a.m.

A Hanukkah party at the house of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi outside New York City on Saturday night was interrupted by a man with a machete.

Five were stabbed, though none fatally, and the suspect is now in custody. Two remained hospitalized on Sunday.

The alleged stabber, Grafton Thomas, pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary in court Sunday. Federal prosecutors subsequently filed hate crimes charges against him on Monday.

Here’s what we now know about the attack.

Alleged stabber covered his face and reportedly screamed “I’ll get you.”

Thomas had obscured his face with a scarf when he barged into the home of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg home in Monsey, New York. He immediately began attacking people inside the home, who’d gathered to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah.

“Nobody is going anywhere!” Thomas reportedly announced.

“Hey you, I’ll get you,” Josef Gluck, who attended the gathering, recalled Thomas telling him.

People fought back with furniture and Thomas fled.

As Thomas continued his rampage inside Rottenberg’s home, attendees at the house fought back with furniture.

“I grabbed an old antique coffee table and I threw it at his face,” Gluck recalled.

“I just saw him start to hit whoever he could,” another attendee, Israel Klaus, said. “I started immediately to run out the back door.”

Thomas left the house and attempted to enter the synagogue next door, Congregation Netzach Yisroel, but its doors had been locked amid the commotion. So he got into a car and drove off. Eventually license plate readers scanned his vehicle crossing the George Washington Bridge into New York City.

Authorities said Thomas was covered in blood and had a bloody machete in his car when he was arrested.

The attack took place in a heavily Jewish area.

The attack took place in Rockland County, which is 25 miles from New York City and has the highest population of Jews per capita in the country — just over 31%.

Monsey and surrounding towns have seen their population of ultra-Orthodox Jews swell in recent decades. Ultra-Orthodox Jews — who dress traditionally and are visibly religious — have been targeted in the past in the area.

The attack adds to a string of recent anti-Semitic incidents, many of them violent, in New York City and surrounding areas. Two perpetrators killed two Orthodox Jews, a police officer and an Ecuadorian immigrant recently in a mass shooting in Jersey City. Authorities are investigating it as terrorism.

Thomas reportedly resides in Greenwood Lake, a 40-minute drive from the crime scene.

Saturday’s stabbing followed another stabbing of an orthodox Jew in the same town last month.

Thomas’ alleged stabbing spree Saturday followed another stabbing on Nov. 20 in Monsey, in which a man was beaten and repeatedly stabbed within steps of another synagogue in town.

The New York Post, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, reported that Thomas’ vehicle was spotted near that crime scene at the time and that he was questioned as a person of interest, but not charged. He is now being investigated again for ties to the November stabbing, the Post reported.

The precise motive is unclear, and the suspect’s family says he has long struggled with mental illness.

Officials from across New York and the nation have denounced Saturday’s attack as anti-Semitic and a possible hate crime or domestic terrorism, but prosecutors have not announced a specific motive yet.

Thomas’ family said in a widely quoted statement that he has a long history with mental illness and hospitalizations, but not with any extremist groups.

“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 statement read.

The statement said Thomas’ lawyer had been instructed to seek a mental health evaluation for Thomas. “We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which, as noted above, Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released,” the family said.

Reverend Wendy Paige, who the Post said was Thomas’ pastor of 10 years, said Thomas “is not a terrorist, he is a man who has mental illness in America and the systems that be have not served him well.” Reports have identified previous arrests on Thomas’ record including for menacing and punching a police horse.

This post has been updated.

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