On Wednesday December 10th at approximately 12:30 pm a police officer was shot and killed after attempting to approach two suspicious individuals near the Bayview Cemetery in Jersey City, New Jersey, or at least that was the initial version, as we will later see.
The two killers then stole a U-Haul vehicle and drove to a kosher grocery store on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive and after barricading inside, they initiated an exchange of fire with the police that lasted for more than one hour; the assailants also opened fire against anyone passing in front of the store. The battle continued until the two killers were eliminated, with a final toll of six dead (the two killers, three civilians and a 39-years old police officer) and three wounded.
Initial reports indicated that the incident was the result of a confrontation between undercover police and the killers in relation to a drug deal gone wrong, according to the local ABC affiliate, which cited the police department's "working theory".
Five hours later, Police Chief Michael Kelly claimed at a press conference that "there was no indication that the shooting was a hate crime" adding that the U-Haul vehicle contained an incendiary device. In a separate press conference, Mayor Steven Fulop said that there was no evidence indicating that the episode was terror-related.
However, there are several elements that immediately sounded unusual in relation to a "drug deal gone wrong", starting with the location. The attacked kosher mini-market is in fact right next to the Greenville Beit Midrash and near an affiliated yeshiva. The area around the store is the home of about 70 families, Yiddish-speaking Hasidic Jews originally from Brooklyn.
The battle shootout between the police and the two killers lasted for over an hour and witnesses claimed that they heard more than three-hundred shots. In addition, it is also essential to consider the incendiary device found inside the U-Haul vehicle.
The two individuals could have fled the scene after the first exchange of fire near the Cemetery, instead they decided to stop and attack the Kosher store.
According to witnesses, from the inside, the killers targeted anyone moving in front of the store, possibly with the intention of killing as many people as possible. Dynamics that are out of tune with the hypothesis of a drug deal.
Additionally, the names of the two killers are still unknown as authorities haven't made them public, something quite unusual, especially if crime-related.
As hours went by, it turned out that one of the two killers had published anti-Semitic and anti-police posts online and investigators now do believe that the attack was motivated by those sentiments.
On Wednesday December 11th the authorities came out with a different version, as reported by CNN:
"We do feel comfortable that it was a targeted attack on the Jewish kosher deli," Mayor Steven Fulop told reporters, citing surveillance video showing the shooters driving up to the store, getting out and firing into the store.
However, the Jersey City Department of Public Safety Director James Shea indicated that authorities are not labeling the incident as anti-Semitic. "The motives are still part of the investigation," he said.
The description provided by Mayor Fulop speaks for itself:
"We could see the van moving through Jersey City streets slowly. The perpetrator stopped in front of there, calmly opened the door with two long rifles -- him and the other perpetrator -- and began firing from the street into the facility".
Public Safety Director Shea additionally said: "We now know this did not begin with gunfire between police officers and the perpetrators and then moved to the store. It began with an attack on the civilians in the store. That was their target and they intended to harm people inside there".
While authorities do need to make up their mind on the motivation of the attack, it is a mystery why the Police Chief and the Jersey City Mayor prematurely ruled out the terror-related hypothesis. Am hazardous statement considering the location, the dynamics and the heavy weaponry used by the two killers.
Another obvious question is related to the initial shooting near the Cemetery, did it occur or not? If yes, was it related to the kosher store attack or not? If not, how was it brought up?
Also, is it possible not to label the incident as anti-Semitic if the perpetrators intentionally attacked a kosher store within a Jewish area? After that one of the two suspects posted anti-Semitic material online? In addition, why are the names of the two suspects not being released to the public? The whole situation still seems very confusing as the investigation moves on.