One of the survivors of the New York Hanukkah celebration stabbings was hit in the side of the head by the suspect’s machete and doctors had to use three staples to close his wounds, Rabbi Shmuel Gancz told CNN.
Shloime Rottenberg, the son of Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg, had just finished the ceremony of lighting the menorah at his father’s upstate New York home when the attack started, Gancz said.
“They are grateful for what they deem a minor injury considering where else the machete could have hit him, such as his eyes,” Gancz said of Rottenberg and his family.
The suspect, Grafton Thomas, has been accused of wounding five people with a machete during the Hanukkah celebration last weekend. Thomas, 37, pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder Sunday. A day later, he was charged by federal agents with obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill – a federal hate crime. A judge ordered him to be detained.
Tuesday, federal authorities impounded a car that Thomas’ mother dropped off at a body shop last week, said Gerry Galiger, the owner and operator of Finesse Auto Body in Greenwood Lake, New York.
Galiger said a Honda Pilot was taken to the shop for repairs December 27 and Thomas showed up later that day to pick up the rental vehicle.
Thomas’ attorney, Michael Sussman, said his client told him he heard a “voice talking to him” the night of the attack.
Sussman said he talked about “various auditory hallucinations and one might say ‘demons.’” Thomas has a “long history of mental illness and hospitalizations,” his family said in a statement released by the attorney.
Federal prosecutors say Thomas entered the rabbi’s home in Monsey, north of Manhattan, on Saturday night and told the dozens of people there “no one is leaving.” He attacked them with an 18-inch machete, with at least five victims suffering injuries ranging from slash wounds to a severed finger and a skull fracture, federal prosecutors said.
“We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which … Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released,” his family said in the statement.
In an undated resume, which was shown to CNN by Sussman on Monday, Grafton is characterized as a “highly motivated, open minded, flexible, athletic individual” who was “seeking positive and challenging experiences in life.”
The resume also said he was the school president of David Ruggles Junior High School – a school in Brooklyn that no longer operates – for two years. He is also listed as a “Marine Corp Recruit.”
Sussman told CNN that Thomas had joined the Marines for a short period of time, during which he sustained injuries and left. Department of Defense records show Thomas was on active duty with the Marines from November 20, 2002, to December 24, 2002. The records do not list any additional information.
Suspect had no known history of anti-Semitism, family says
Investigators charged Thomas with a federal hate crime after discovering anti-Semitic journal entries in his home – including references to “Adolf Hitler” and “Nazi Culture,” according to the criminal complaint.
Sussman said that while he hadn’t seen those entries, he had reviewed earlier writings from Thomas which reflected the “ramblings of a disturbed individual” but contained “no suggestion … of an anti-Semitic motive, of any anti-Semitism.”
The suspect’s family said Thomas had “no known history of anti-Semitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups.”
One entry in Thomas’ journal said “Hebrew Israelites” took from the “powerful ppl (ebinoid Israelites)” and questioned “why ppl mourned for anti-Semitism when there is Semitic genocide.” The criminal complaint said “ebinoid Israelites” appears to be a reference to the “Black Hebrew Israelite” movement.
Sussman said he hadn’t heard anything that indicated the suspect was involved in the “Black Hebrew Israelite” movement – which comprises of some groups or members that have expressed anti-Semitic sentiments.
The Southern Poverty Law Center does not recognize the overall movement as a hate group but does list dozens of groups within the Black Hebrew Israelite movement as hate groups because its worldview and rhetoric are informed by bigotry against whites and Jews, according to Heidi Beirich, director of the SPLC Intelligence Project.
Thomas had been arrested twice before, public defender Kristine Ciganek told a judge during Thomas’ arraignment Sunday on attempted murder charges.
Those arrests were earlier this year for menacing and reckless endangerment, Rockland County Senior Assistant District Attorney Michael Dugandzic said. The outcome of those charges wasn’t immediately clear.
Thomas’ family said he had no history of similar violent acts and had no prior convictions.
His mother, a registered nurse who works in a New York City hospital, wasn’t ready to speak to reporters, Sussman said.
United Methodist Church Pastor Wendy Paige, who has known Thomas for the past 10 years, said he has a mental illness and is “not a terrorist.”
CNN’s Mark Morales, Monica Haider, Nicole Chavez and Rob Frehse contributed to this report.