Arson suspect called ‘loner’ who hated Jews

Arson suspect called ‘loner’ who hated Jews

Bergen County cops charge Lodi teenager in synagogue attacks

This photo of Anthony Graziano was released by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Jan. 24.
This photo of Anthony Graziano was released by the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office, Jan. 24.

Police describe Anthony M. Graziano as a “loner” who used empty raspberry Crush soda bottles, motor oil, duct tape, and three cans of hairspray to create Molotov cocktails. He then hopped on his bicycle and rode to nearby synagogues, tossing the incendiary devices before pedaling away.

On Tuesday, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office announced it had arrested the 19-year-old Lodi man in connection with the firebombing and arson of two north Jersey synagogues, Congregation K’hal Adath Jeshurun in Paramus and Congregation Beth El in Rutherford.

Graziano has been charged with nine counts of first-degree attempted murder, one count of first-degree bias intimidation, and one count of first-degree aggravated arson in the Rutherford case.

He faces charges of first-degree aggravated arson, first-degree bias intimidation, and third-degree arson for the Paramus case.

If found guilty, he could face between 40 and 80 years in prison, Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli said during a press conference Tuesday afternoon in Paramus.

“We have no doubt that the arson and the attempted murder in Rutherford were directly the result of Mr. Graziano’s hatred for people of the Jewish faith,” Molinelli said. “We believe that he did this because they were synagogues and specifically to intimidate and cause alarm or concern to people of the Jewish community.”

Molinelli said Graziano rode his bike to the synagogues, carrying with him gasoline and other containers, specifically raspberry Crush soda bottles, which he used to make his Molotov cocktails.

“There is no connection between him and any congregationist. There is no connection between him and the rabbi,” Molinelli said. “He simply Googled area synagogues, obviously taking into consideration that he would be utilizing his bike to get there, probably choosing synagogues in more residential areas.”

Graziano, who lives with his mother and siblings, is believed to have acted alone, Molinelli said. Graziano is a 2010 graduate of Hasbrouck Heights High School and was in the process of attending Bergen Community College. Molinelli described him as a “loner.”

Arson is usually a second-degree offense under New Jersey law, Molinelli explained, but it becomes a first-degree offense of aggravated arson when a house of worship is involved. Damage to both buildings was minimal.

Rabbi Nosson Schuman, who lives in the home attached to Beth El with his wife and five children and whose hands were burned in the Jan. 11 attack, thanked Bergen County and Rutherford law enforcement for their help in capturing the alleged arsonist.

“The great fear he brought is lifted off our shoulders,” Schuman told the Standard. “We’re really glad they caught him. It’s not only a benefit for us but for the whole tristate area.”

Detectives had looked for stores where items used to make the Molotov cocktails could be purchased all at once. This led them to the Rutherford Wal-Mart, and on Jan. 20, the prosecutor’s office released security footage of a man buying the bomb ingredients at the Wal-Mart. This in turn spurred a number of valid tips on Monday that led to Graziano’s arrest late Monday night, according to Molinelli.

“The individuals at Wal-Mart were very, very cooperative; it was just IDing the person,” Molinelli said.

Etzion Neuer, acting director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New Jersey office, told the Standard that the organization’s $7,500 reward would be paid if Graziano is convicted.

“Mr. Graziano is somebody that is an anti-Semite,” Molinelli said. “He is somebody who has a hatred of the Jewish faith.”

Molinelli thanked the Jewish community for its cooperation during the investigation. His office continues investigating graffiti incidents at synagogues in Maywood and Paramus in December, but does not believe Graziano was involved, according to Molinelli.

Neuer praised Molinelli and his department, but added a warning.

“While we would expect our community to breathe a little bit easier, it’s important that we do not let our relief lead to a laxity in the area of communal security,” he said. “If Jewish institutions pledged to themselves and their membership to make their institutions more secure, they should carry those plans through.”

Graziano’s bail was set at $5,000,000. His first arraignment was scheduled for Jan. 25.

A version of this article appeared in The Jewish Standard; it is reprinted here with permission.

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