JERSEY CITY, NJ – Montville resident and New Jersey State Park Police Lt. Thomas Norton was discussing staffing schedules in the park police offices at Liberty State Park when the “frantic call” from Jersey City Police came over the radio. It was, Norton said, a plea for help from the city’s police department for any and all law enforcement to respond to an active shooter situation at Martin Luther King Drive and Bidwell Avenue.
What Norton and other police eventually would learn was that two heavily armed people had entered a kosher grocery store in the Greenville section, guns blazing. Six people would die in the Dec. 10 violent standoff: a city police detective who encountered the shooters shortly before the attack, a woman who ran the market, a store employee, a customer, and the armed man and woman.
However, all Norton knew when he heard the call shortly before noon that day was that he and State Park Police Officers Froilan Hernandez, Bairon Serna and Matthew Spadaro, who happened to be with him at the time, needed to offer their assistance. There was no hesitation, he said, because they were prepared, having undergone training in active shooter situations with the New Jersey State Police.
“The officers responding to the emergency of an active shooter displayed professionalism and bravery,” Norton said.
The scene was hectic, Norton said, with streets closed in every direction as Jersey City police attempted to deal with the situation. Eventually, after parking their vehicle on a sidewalk, the four state park police veterans walked to the incident command center at the Jersey City Police Department’s South District on Bergen Avenue to assist in the lockdown.
“It was a couple of blocks from the shooting scene,” Norton said, and they could hear bursts of gunfire. “It was not police fire, it was fire from the [shooters].”
He and the three other park police officers – as well as a Jersey City Police SWAT team member and two other Jersey City police officers – were assigned behind the South District headquarters to observe the rooftops of nearby buildings because there had been reports that the shooters might have moved to the rooftops.
“Once the threat was established that the shooters were in the market,” Norton said, he and the other park police officers were sent to an area on JFK Boulevard, where the plan was to move children from nearby schools to a safer spot. When that decision was eventually abandoned, the four were released from their assignment. Though they had spent about two hours in the area, their work was not done. They had learned the shooters’ vehicle had been spotted in Liberty State Park, Norton said, observed by State Park Police Officer Jeremiah Clancy and K-9 Officer Kenneth Kriete in the park on Dec. 3, and a decision was made to sweep Liberty State Park about 4:30 p.m.
The four officers who had been in the area of shootings were joined by four other park police officers and canines as the park was closed and searched. In addition to Norton, Hernandez, Serna and Spadaro, the search team included Kriete, with his K-9 partner, Zico; Sgt. Jose Salerna; K-9 Sgt. Barrett Beard, with his canine partner, Prime; and Lt. George Fedorczyk. It was an undertaking at which they would spend several hours before determining that there were no threats to safety in any of the park’s environs.
Commissioner Catherine R. McCabe offered her gratitude for the officers’ efforts, saying, “Thank you all for your diligence and quick action to ensure protection of the public.”
“Your professionalism, deliberate actions and sense of duty in the face of horrific circumstance are very extremely appreciated,” said Natural and Historic Resources Assistant Commissioner Ray Bukowski. “Your actions to keep the public safe are heroic and reflect so well on yourselves, the New Jersey State Park Police and the department.”
The New Jersey State Park Police is under the leadership of Chief Terri Genardi, who praised the officers for selflessly responding to the incident while also securing Liberty State Park. The unhesitating assistance at the shooting scene and during the painstaking park search that followed was nothing less than what Norton expected from all of the State Park Police officers involved. Once again citing their professionalism and bravery, he said, “I am very proud.”
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