The man behind an anti-Semitic attack that unfolded Saturday evening inside the suburban New York home of a Hasidic rabbi uttered no words before using a knife “the size of a broomstick” to stab five people, according to one witness who escaped the violence unscathed.
Aron Kohn, 65, spoke to reporters on Saturday evening after the 10 p.m. incident, and said he was inside Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg’s Monsey, New York, residence when the suspect entered, carrying an ominous case.
The rabbi was near the Hanukkah candles when the attack began, Kohn described.
“I was praying for my life,” Kohn told reporters, including those from the New York Times and WABC. “He started attacking people right away as soon as he came in the door. We didn’t have time to react at all.”
According to Kohn, the suspect — who has been identified as 37-year-old Grafton Thomas — pulled a large knife out of the case. “It was about the size of a broomstick,” Kohn recalled.
Dozens of congregants were in the home at the time.
Five people were stabbed and wounded, with three released from the hospital as of Sunday afternoon. Two others remain under the care of doctors, but the severity of their injuries is unclear at this time. The names and ages of the injured have not been released. One of those attacked was the rabbi’s son, according to the Times.
The rabbi’s home is next to a synagogue, Congregation Netzach Yisroel. Witnesses told Chabad media director, Rabbi Motti Seligson, that people fled the house and went to the synagogue where they locked themselves in. The rabbi led the service at the synagogue later, he said.
Monsey is a suburb not far from Manhattan which boasts a large Hasidic population.
During a press conference Sunday morning, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo called the attack an “act of domestic terrorism.”
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Rabbi Rottenberg told about last night's attack in Monsey: there was no warning, nothing said—just hate.— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) December 29, 2019
"A country is not just what it does—it is also what it tolerates." I do not tolerate this
We must call this what it is: Domestic terrorism & our laws must treat it that way pic.twitter.com/HMJFtnkXWh
The New York Police Department apprehended Thomas in Harlem not long after the stabbing attack.
Thomas has been charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary, PEOPLE confirms.
He was arraigned on Sunday and pleaded not guilty to all charges, the Associated Press reported. Bail was set at $5 million.
It was unclear Sunday if he had an attorney who could comment on the allegations on his behalf.
A motive for the violence has not been identified.
Cuomo noted that Saturday’s violence was the 13th anti-Semitic attack in the state of New York since Dec. 8.