People were gripped with terror as six people, including a police officer and three bystanders, were killed in a furious gun battle Tuesday that filled the streets of Jersey City with the sound of heavy gunfire for hours.
The harrowing incident began at about 12:30 in the afternoon at a local cemetery. Initial reports indicated that what happened was a police operation went bad. There were reports that police were questioning a man and a woman about a homicide – others reported it as a drug bust gone sour – when the two black-clad suspects opened fire at the police and killed one of the officers.
Later on there were reports that the police officer happened upon two suspicious people in a stolen U-Haul near the cemetery. When he approached them they shot him.
The pair then fled in the U-Haul van and pulled up at the JC Kosher Supermarket, located at 223 Martin Luther King Drive. They ran inside with their guns drawn and began shooting. They shot at people in the grocery store and also at police and passersby. Hundreds of shots were fired. Two frum people and a Hispanic worker inside the store were reportedly killed.
That theory gained credence when Jersey City’s mayor tweeted that “based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked.
One police officer was critically injured after being shot in the head and at least two others were wounded. “Our officers were under fire for hours,” Jersey City Police Chief Michael Kelly said. He would not say exactly what set off the shooting, but that he believes the officer who was killed was trying to stop some “bad guys.”
City Public Safety Director James Shea said that authorities believe the bloodshed was not an act of terrorism, but that it was still under investigation. It would seem that the authorities were investigating whether this was indeed a targeted shooting, or the result of a botched police operation. The shooting received national attention, much more than a botched police operation would.
As we went to press, nine hours after the shooting, the situation was still fluid and details are murky. The area around the store remained cordoned off as police conducted an intensive investigation to determine the root of the crime. All indications were that it was terror, but authorities wanted to be sure before they confirmed the worst fears of Jews and local residents.
A row of heavily armed SWAT teams surrounded the supermarket building, which houses a local shul and cheder with 40 children on its second floor. The children, who belong to the local Satmar kehillah, were all safe.
Long bursts of gunfire were heard sporadically in an exchange between police and the gunmen. The U-Haul van, which was parked outside, was found to be hot to the touch, leading to concern that it may contain a bomb. It was investigated and indeed found to contain a pipe bomb.
Video shot by residents recorded loud volleys of gunfire reverberating along one of the city’s main streets and showed a long line of law enforcement officers pointing guns as they advanced, yelling to bystanders, “Clear the street! Get out of the way!”
Witness Willy McDonald said, “This is one of the biggest gunfights I’ve seen in a while, and I’ve been to Vietnam!”
“It’s like firecrackers going off,” said Andy Patel, who works at a liquor store about three blocks away. “They were shooting like crazy. …The cops were clearing everyone off the streets.”
President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting and offered his condolences and prayers.
“Once again, our nation is faced with scenes of carnage, fear, hopelessness and loss,” Senator Cory Booker said. “There should be no place in America where residents are gunned down while shopping for groceries, officers are slain while protecting our communities and children are sheltering in place at school. These tragedies cannot become our new normal.”
Neighboring municipalities, including the NYPD, offered aid. New York City sent over several tactical teams.
Reports in the frum media stated that an eyewitness said that three of the civilians killed were members of the local Chassidic community, but no official confirmations were made as of press time. Other rumors swirled all day Tuesday.
The incident began at the Bay View cemetery, where an undercover police officer – later identified as Detective Joseph Seals, a married father of five – was shot and subsequently declared dead. The two shooters were killed by police after a multi-hour standoff in the store.
One Chassidic Jew was evacuated to an area hospital with multiple gunshot wounds and was said to be recovering in good condition.
“I was standing by the salad bar in the grocery and I heard three shots, bullets shattered the glass of the grocery,” shared one eyewitness. “Suddenly, I saw two people come in, with long black raincoats and long guns. They tried to point the gun at me. I pushed it away and ran away.”
The children of the cheder located above the shul were sheltered in place throughout the saga.
Moshe Ferencz is the proprietor of the JC Kosher Supermarket. He left the store to daven mincha at the shul next door and left his wife Mindy behind in the store. As he was davening shots rang out. He ran to the store, but it was on lockdown and he could not get in. He prayed for his wife.
At press time the names of the victims were not yet released.
A Catholic elementary school located across from the scene of the shooting was also placed on lockdown, a worker at the school said.
In recent years, approximately 100 Chassidic families, priced out of Williamsburg and other Brooklyn neighborhoods, have relocated to Jersey City. Its proximity to Manhattan has also attracted young Jews.
For more than an hour, loud exchanges of gunfire rang out in the city’s Greenville neighborhood. Helicopters circled overhead as police officers swarmed the streets. They aimed handguns and long guns in every direction as they traveled down the street in formations, knocking on doors and ushering residents and business owners to safety.
“I got caught in a one way street with a bunch of cars and I was wondering why nobody was moving. And all of a sudden I heard it. All the shots started. Shots started ringing out. When I heard it, I see people running. I got out of the car and I see cops ducked down, and cops getting out of the way,” witness Brian Clark said.
“So I get out of my car and I see it, and I heard it – pow pow pow pow pow – then I realized I was in a shootout. I never heard that many shots in my life. It was like I was in a war zone,” Clark added.
Another witness told CBS, “I heard over 200 gunshots fired.”
Multiple law enforcement agencies, including the F.B.I. and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, responded to the scene. Misaskim and Chesed Shel Emes volunteers were present to assist.
A nearby exit on The Jersey Turnpike was closed. New Jersey Transit suspended bus service and Hudson-Bergen Light Rail service as officers continued to respond. Twelve public schools in the vicinity of the shooting were shut down and on lockdown, according to the superintendent of Jersey City Public Schools, Frank Walker. All seeming to point to fears that this was a terror operation.
May Hashem have mercy on His people, protect us and comfort those who lost loved ones, and heal the wounded.
The Associated Press and Matzav.com contributed to this report.