BAYONNE, NJ — Jersey City Police Det. Joseph Seals, a Bayonne native, as well as two walking Jersey City patrol officers may have averted a planned terrorist attack on a Jersey City yeshiva, said law enforcement officers investigating the attack on a Jewish grocery store that had most of the city at a standstill Tuesday.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said Wednesday the two suspects who murdered Seals, and three people in the Jewish supermarket, were also prime suspects in the murder that took place in Bayonne on Sunday.
Other police sources said an apparent conflict with an Uber driver in Bayonne resulted in the suspects beating and possibly shooting the driver – starting a massive manhunt eventually leading to the conflict with Seals in the Jersey City graveyard.
Surveillance video recorded in Bayonne Saturday evening apparently shows the suspects beating their first victim in what appeared to be an attempt to take his vehicle.
The suspects, David Anderson and Francine Graham, who were later killed in the lengthy shootout, were being sought for the murder Michael Rumberger, who police found dead in the trunk of a Lincoln Town Car on late Saturday night.
“We don’t know what they actually fought about,” said one police source. “But the victim clearly knew the suspects. They had some prior relationship.”
A flat tire apparently prevented the suspects from fleeing with the vehicle.
The ensuing manhunt, using Hudson County and Jersey City crime surveillance systems, is said to have tracked Anderson and Graham, showing them over a few days in various locations, including the Hudson Mall on Route 440.
But they may have stolen a U-Haul vehicle which Seals spotted at the graveyard early Tuesday, officials have theorized. The suspect are said to have assassinated Seals at the scene before fleeing to Martin Luther King Drive where Anderson – according to Jersey City video – took out a rifle from the van and started shooting into the Jewish supermarket.
Mayor Steven Fulop said this was a deliberate act of terrorism, a hate crime aimed at the Jewish community, and took issue with other state leaders, including Governor Phil Murphy and Grewal who, so far, have refused to label it as such.
“I am upset that others refuse to call this what it really is, a hate crime,” said Fulop said.
Police sources have also said that the shooting inside the store was likely only part of a larger plan aimed at slaughtering the students in a yeshiva across the street from the store.
Already on alert following a 911 call regarding Seals’ death, two police officers on foot patrol on MLK Drive responded quickly to the shooter’s new location, keeping the suspects from leaving the store to carry out the rest of their plan, officials said.
Hundreds of law enforcement offices swarmed into the area in support of the police action, including uniformed patrol officers from Bayonne.
While Bayonne Mayor Jimmy Davis could not comment on the details of the case, he did confirm that members of the Bayonne Police Department did respond to the crime scene
“I was a police officer,” he said adding that he responded as because he wasn’t “going to send (his) men someplace and not go as well.”
Davis said Bayonne also provided material support including use of a drone, which eventually wasn’t needed.
The gun fire between police and suspects went on for about two hours starting shortly after noon and continuing until a last extreme volley of bullets exploded just prior to 2:00 p.m.
In addition to the deceased Detective Shields and five dead inside the story, including the suspects, two Jersey City police officers wounded in the conflict, treated at Jersey City Medical Center, and later released.
Many local officials praised Seals, who leaves behind a wife and five children, for his actions. A GoFundMe page has been established by the JCPOBA, Seals' union, to provide the family with financial support.
“Detective Seals did what he was supposed to do and died living up to the oath he took when he became a police officer,” said Davis, who had met with Seals several times when they both served as police officers.
“Seals was a hero,” said County Executive Tom DeGise. “He confronted these people and his death helped alert others before this became even worse.”
Anderson and Graham apparently stole the U-Haul van after the murder in Bayonne, and are said to have loaded it with weapons.
“We still do not know much about the van and how it was involved in the Bayonne conflict,” Davis said.
Law enforcement officers in Jersey City, however, believe that when Seals stopped the van it apparently contained a horde of high-powered weapons as well as a pipe bomb.
Grewal said this was a viable device, meaning it could have exploded.
Both suspects were dressed completely in black, as if prepared for a combat mission, officials said.
These officials also said that suspect cell phones may have been recovered, something Grewal appeared to confirm at a press conference that included Gov. Phil Murphy, federal, state and local law enforcement officials.
The investigation is ongoing.