Dozens of children were in attendance without security at an Orthodox Jewish school at the time of Tuesday’s brutal shooting in Jersey City, a rabbi at the school said hours after the city’s mayor claimed the students were the real target.
Between 50 and 60 elementary school children were at the yeshiva attached to the JC Kosher Supermarket, where two shooters armed with a high-powered rifle and shotgun burst in and fired countless rounds, said Rabbi Mark, who declined to give his last name citing safety concerns.
After reviewing new surveillance footage, Mayor Steven Fulop said Friday it appeared that the shooters meant to attack the students at the school, but veered to the right and took aim at the market instead.
In video posted by the Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council, one of the shooters allegedly shoots at the door of the synagogue before turning his attention to the market.
If the shooters had pushed further and attacked the school, there would have been little to stop them, with no security at the building, the rabbi said.
“I don’t have the words,” Rabbi Mark told NJ Advance Media. “I don’t know how they didn’t realize there was a back door, and they didn’t run out of the back door and just do the shooting. It’s a miracle.”
On Tuesday afternoon, the two shooters, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, pulled up in a U-Haul van across the street and mere steps from the supermarket and got out, armed with an AR-15 rifle and shotgun and began shooting into the market. Right next door is the Greenville shul, where a synagogue sits on the ground floor, with the yeshiva above it on the second floor, the rabbi said.
The violent shooting left Moshe Deutsch, 24, Leah Mindel Ferencz, 33, and Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49, dead. Also killed was Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, who was shot by Anderson and Graham earlier in Bayview Cemetery, about a mile away from the market.
The two shooters were killed in the ensuing standoff with law enforcement officers.
The rabbi, who was in an office a few blocks away, recalls hearing the gunshots ringing from the market.
“It was like a war zone,” he said.
Until Tuesday, the tight-knit Orthodox Jewish community in the city’s Greenville neighborhood had lived peacefully, getting along with their neighbors from all faiths and walks of life.
“We live very peacefully,” the rabbi said. “Until now, we lived very peacefully. We didn’t have any incidents, and the gentiles are very nice to the Jews. They greet us. We live very peacefully and very nicely with our neighbors.”
The shooting has changed things for the shul and the yeshiva, which is now reevaluating its security protocols. The school has rented private security, and police have increased their presence in the area, the rabbi said. In the days after the shooting, some of the school buses were followed by police.
Despite a tragedy that has rocked the Orthodox Jewish community and will likely reverberate for some time to come, the shul and yeshiva look to move forward. On Thursday and Friday, school was held in a different building. School started late Thursday and returned to its regular schedule Friday, the rabbi said.
By next week, school should be back to normal, he said.
“We’re Jews,” the rabbi said. “The ambition of Jews, even though it’s a tragic incident, we’re just trying to get to go further.”
When the police cordons are removed and school starts once again, students will return and the community will try to repair what was lost, remembering the tragedy that transpired and giving thanks for the tragedy that was avoided, said the rabbi.
“We will be celebrating this, for this miracle,” the rabbi said. “We’re going. We’re going on, we’ll go and we’ll make it work.”