Hanukkah stabbing suspect not part of hate group, has mental illness: Family

Kuzma/iStock(NEW YORK) -- The family of the New York man who allegedly stabbed five people with a machete at a Hanukkah celebration Saturday night denounced the crime and said he has mental health problems and no ties to any hate groups.

"Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations," the family said in a statement issued Sunday night. "He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime. He has 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."

Thomas, 38, was arraigned on Sunday and charged with five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary, police said. He pleaded not guilty and is being held on $5 million bond at the Rockland County Jail.

Police said he was arrested in Harlem covered in blood after driving away from the scene in Monsey, New York, where Rabbi Chaim Rottenberg was hosting a ceremony to light the candle on the seventh night of Hanukkah. There were about 100 people at the rabbi's home, which is attached to the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish congregation's synagogue.

The five victims injured in the attack were being treated at area hospitals, included one man who is in critical condition with a skull fracture, officials said. Among those injured is the rabbi's son.

Josef Gluck, manager of the synagogue, said he was sitting in the dining room with 40 to 50 people when the intruder barged in wearing a hoodie and a scarf covering all of his face except for his eyes. He said the suspect started hacking people in the dining room, before continuing the attack in the kitchen.

"He was just swinging his sword, knife -- I don't know what it was -- back and forth hitting people. He didn't say anything," Gluck said.

Aron Kohn, one of those attending the ceremony, said he answered the front door of the rabbi's house to find the suspect standing there.

"I asked, 'Who is coming in, in the middle of the night, with an umbrella?'" said Kohn. "While I was saying that ... right away, boom, he pulled out the knife from the holder, from the case, and I'm throwing tables and chairs, that he should get out of here."

Kohn said the man ran past him, into a large room, where he attacked those inside.

Thomas' family called the attack a sign of "profound mental illness."

"We have instructed Mr. Thomas’s newly retained attorney, Michael H. Sussman, to seek immediate mental health evaluation of Grafton," the family said in its statement. "We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness for which, as noted above, Grafton has received episodic treatment before being released."

The family also extended sympathies to those injured, saying, "[W]e express our deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night and our family’s earnest yearning for their well being. We thank those who rendered medical attention to each of those injured."

The motive for the attack still remains unclear, though Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to it as "an act of domestic terrorism." The stabbings, just north of New York City, came at the end of two weeks of increased anti-Semitic attacks in the city. The New York Police Department was investigating nine attacks against Jewish individuals prior to the stabbings. It is not clear if any are related.

Thomas is next scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 3.

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