Last Saturday in Maplewood, the alleged killer of David Kimowitz and of his family’s au pair brought grief and horror to a normally peaceful neighborhood — and robbed the Jewish community of one of its own.
Kimowitz, husband to Laura, and the father of their two young children, had deep roots in the area.
Though full details have not yet been released, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s office, Kimowitz, 40, was found dead early Saturday morning in his home. Neighbors said they heard the screams of the family’s au pair, Karen L. Bermudez-Rodriguez, 26, coming from inside the house, and shortly thereafter a jogger found her lying critically injured on the lawn outside, her hands bound, apparently fleeing from her attacker. She was taken to Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
Later that day her ex-boyfriend, James D. Porter, 27, of Elizabeth, was arrested at Newark Liberty International Airport before he could board a flight to Mexico, authorities said in court documents, and was charged with the murders. According to the court documents, authorities said he had used a key Bermudez-Rodriguez had given him to enter the house, where he stabbed Kimowitz to death, and then chased the au pair outside, attacking her with a knife.
“The entire Greater MetroWest community is in shock over this horrific tragedy and sudden and untimely loss,” said Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Congregation Beth El, the Conservative synagogue in South Orange where Kimowitz, and his family, were members. Kimowitz’s wife and their two daughters, ages 2 and 4, were out of town when the murders took place.
Kimowitz had deep roots in the local Jewish community. He grew up in Rockaway and attended Adath Shalom Congregation in Morris Plains, where he was active in United Synagogue Youth as a teen, serving as president of the group’s HaGalil region. His parents, who now live in Montville, are still members of Adath Shalom, along with his brother, Adam, of Denville. Another brother, Richard, of Livingston, belongs to Temple Beth Shalom there.
“David, along with his brothers Richard and Adam, grew up in our shul and many, many here have known him since he was a little boy and have been so proud of the man, husband, and father that he became,” Rabbi Moshe Rudin of Adath Shalom wrote in an email to NJJN. “I have taken the tiniest spark of comfort in picturing David being welcomed to Olam HaBah (Heaven) by our beloved Cantor emeritus, Jack Korbman z”l, who Bar Mitzvah’d not only David and his dear brothers, but David’s father, Hal.” He added, “We are poised to do everything we can to grieve with, support, and stand by those whose love, support, and generosity has sustained us — now it is our holy obligation to try to sustain our sustainers.”
David Kimowitz earned his undergraduate degree in a joint program between Columbia University and the Albert A. List College of Jewish Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary, and worked as a counselor at Camp Ramah in the Poconos for several summers. He was a partner of CH Entertainment and a founder of the acclaimed Stand Restaurant and Comedy Club in Manhattan.
The family moved back to New Jersey from New York City in 2017, and the children attend the Beth El preschool.
Olitzky called Kimowitz an “integral part of the preschool community” at Beth El, and added, “I have known David for over 20 years, and he had a great impact on those he met.”
On Monday the synagogue offered counseling on site for staff, parents, and preschool families. Emails were sent specifically to families of the preschool children as well as to the entire congregation.
“Our hearts break as our entire community mourns the loss of David Kimowitz,” said Olitzky. “We are committed to being there to do all we can for the family.”
The home, on the corner of Walton Road and Jefferson Avenue, was still a crime scene on Tuesday morning, with yellow police tape cordoning off the area around the house and police cars parked in front of the house on and off since Saturday. On Sunday a makeshift shrine with bouquets of flowers materialized on the front lawn just behind the police tape; another floral memorial, for Bermudez-Rodriguez, was also set up in Ricalton Square in the center of Maplewood.
Porter was charged with two counts of murder, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon, and criminal restraint. Both an arraignment and detention hearing are scheduled for Aug. 8 at Essex County Superior Court in Newark. Although the investigation is ongoing, there are no other suspects, according to Katherine Carter, spokesperson for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office.
No official cause of death will be available until after an autopsy — generally forbidden according to Jewish law but permissible when required by secular authorities — is completed. Media reports, however, indicate that Kimowitz and Bermudez-Rodriguez were stabbed. The results of the autopsy were scheduled to be released on Tuesday after press time.
A small vigil was held for both victims in Maplewood on Sunday evening. The funeral was set to be held Wednesday at Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel in Livingston, also after press time. Interment was to follow at King Solomon Memorial Park in Clifton, and a memorial service was scheduled for Bermudez-Rodriguez at the Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood for Wednesday evening. Her sister, Valeria Rodríguez Félix, posted on Facebook that the family intends to bring “their beloved back home to Colombia to be laid to rest.”
“Sadly, Karen was taken from us much too early in a senseless act of partner violence,” Valeria wrote in the post. “Her bright and beautiful life will live on in the hearts of everyone she touched, especially her friends and family.”
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to The David
Kimowitz Memorial Fund; call Congregation Beth El at
973-763-0111 for information. The family has also requested that
people send stories, photos, and memories of David to TheDavidKimowitzMemorialFund@gmail.com to share with them
and his daughters as they grow up.
The Au Pair Community of Maplewood/South Orange set up a Facebook fund-raiser, Karen’s Family Support, in memory of Bermudez-Rodriguez, with donations to be used to help her family pay for the funeral and related expenses.