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Man accused in Hanukkah stabbings searched "Jewish temples near me," criminal complaint says

Investigators found handwritten journals referencing anti-Semitic beliefs, along with internet search terms including "German Jewish temples near me," when they searched the home and phone of a man suspected of stabbing five people at a New York Hanukkah celebration Saturday, according to federal hate crime charges filed Monday.

Grafton Thomas, 37, was arraigned Sunday and pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder and one count of burglary for the attack at a rabbi's home in Monsey, New York. Governor Andrew Cuomo called the attack "domestic terrorism" as anti-Semitic incidents and harassment continue to rise in New York and across the country.

According to the federal complaint, which charges Thomas with five counts of obstruction of free exercise of religious beliefs involving an attempt to kill, Thomas entered the home where where dozens of people were lighting candles and saying prayers just before 10 p.m to celebrate the seventh night of Hanukkah. Thomas, his face covered with a scarf, allegedly said words to the effect of, "Nobody is leaving," and then took out a machete and started stabbing and slashing people.

Grafton Thomas CBS New York

The victims, according to the complaint, were "members of the Hasidic community and thus, easily identifiable as adherents to the Jewish faith." The five wounded were hospitalized and suffered injuries including a severed finger, deep lacerations and slash wounds, according to the complaint. At least one remains in critical condition with a skull fracture, the complaint said.

People in the home recalled throwing a table at the attacker and one took down his license plate number as he fled the scene, leading to the suspect's arrest about two hours later in New York City.

When Thomas was pulled over, "the NYPD officers detected a strong smell of bleach coming from the car, and observed what appeared to be blood on Thomas' jacket, clothing and hands," the complaint says. Officers found a machete and a knife with traces of blood on it in Thomas' car, according to the complaint.

The next day, when police searched Thomas' Greenwood Lake home, they found packaging for an Ozark Trail 18-inch machete, manufactured in China. The complaint says investigators also found handwritten journals espousing anti-Semitic beliefs, including "referring to 'Adolf Hitler' and 'Nazi Culture' on the same page as drawings of a Star of David and a Swastika."

Investigators also uncovered internet searches on a phone for terms including "Why did Hitler hate the Jews" and "German Jewish temples near me." The phone had also recently accessed an article about a string of anti-Semitic attacks in New York, according to the complaint.

Thomas' family on Sunday night released a statement claiming the attack wasn't motivated by anti-Semitism, but rather mental illness.

"Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations," the family said through Thomas' attorney. "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."

NYC police commissioner on Hanukkah attack 06:05

"We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness," the statement also added.

The family also expressed their "deepest concern and prayers for those injured physically and otherwise deeply affected by the events of Saturday night." They also thanked anyone who provided medical help for those who were injured in the attack.

Thomas said in court papers filed in a 2013 eviction case in Utah that he suffered from schizophrenia, depression and anxiety and that his "conditions are spontaneous and untamed," reports the Associated Press. 

Michael Sussman, Thomas' attorney, spoke to reporters Monday alongside Thomas' mother and the pastor of her church. He said he had requested a mental health evaluation for his client.

Sussman said he reviewed some of Thomas' writings and said they showed the "ramblings of a disturbed individual," and said they did not suggest any anti-Semitic sentiments. 

"This is the action of an individual who for a long time has decompensated and has been treated in mental health facilities," he said.

Sussman said he has spoken with Thomas and said there's no indication that he is a domestic terrorist. He said it's possible that Thomas has not been taking medications he had been prescribed for depression and psychosis. Sussman said Thomas referenced auditory hallucinations or "demons" when he tried to explain his actions, and said the explanations "were not terribly coherent." 

Sussman said Thomas was a former Marine who had attended college and held down several jobs before beginning to suffer from progressive mental health issues within the past 10 to 15 years, and had been receiving federal disability assistance. Thomas' mother, a registered nurse, is "deeply concerned" about the victims as well as her son, the attorney said.

The attack drew widespread condemnation from top officials in New York as well as from Israel's president and prime minister. Gov. Cuomo has said his hate crimes task force is investigating. He also said state police would increase patrols in Jewish neighborhoods across the state.

"Let me be clear: Anti-Semitism and bigotry of any kind are repugnant to our values of inclusion and diversity and we have absolutely zero tolerance for such acts of hate," he said in a statement. "In New York we will always stand up and say with one voice to anyone who wishes to divide and spread fear: you do not represent New York and your actions will not go unpunished."

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