MONSEY, N.Y. – When he was caught, the intruder was still covered in the blood of his victims — five Hasidic Jews he had stabbed wildly with a machete at a rabbi's home while candles on the Hanukkah menorah still burned.
But the toll might have been worse had those assembled not fought back, hitting the intruder with pieces of furniture, forcing him to retreat.
He had concealed his face with a scarf when he burst into the home in this Hasidic community in the New York suburbs Saturday night, police and witnesses said.
"At the beginning, he started wielding his machete back and forth, trying to hit everyone around," said Josef Gluck, 32, who was at the home of the Hasidic rabbi, Chaim Rottenberg, for the celebration of the seventh night of Hanukkah.
Gluck said the assailant screamed at him, "Hey you, I'll get you" during the attack.
In terror, people fled the living room. Gluck recalled dashing into the kitchen, scooping up a small child and then going down a back porch. Gluck returned, saw an older victim bleeding heavily and then tried to confront the attacker.
"I grabbed an old antique coffee table, and I threw it at his face," Gluck said.
The suspect, Grafton Thomas, 38, was later arrested in Harlem after police traced his license plate.
The police have not disclosed a motive, and much about Thomas remained a mystery Sunday. But Gov. Andrew Cuomo referred to the rampage as an "act of domestic terrorism."
Late Sunday afternoon, two family friends of Thomas said he had struggled with mental illness, and they insisted that was at the root of the attack.
The violence further traumatized the Jewish community in the New York region, coming after a string of anti-Semitic incidents in recent weeks. It occurred less than a month after an anti-Semitic mass shooting at a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, N.J., left three people dead, including two Hasidic Jews.
The New York Police Department had already said Friday that it was stepping up patrols in Jewish neighborhoods after a series of assaults against Jews last week.
The five attack victims were taken to the hospital, and four were treated and released. By Sunday, one remained with a skull fracture.
That person, according to Abe Rosenberg, captain of Hatzalah EMS, the local emergency response service, is elderly and recently underwent heart surgery. "We are praying for him. But a person this age with a critical medical condition, anything can go bad," he said.
People 'fought to stop him'
On Sunday, members of the Hasidic community said they took some solace in how people at the Hanukkah party did whatever they could to repel the attacker.
"People inside fought to stop him," said Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, who is friends with Rottenberg and said he spoke to those who were in the home. "It was very heroic of them. They didn't just let this happen — they tried to defend themselves."
After Thomas left the rabbi's home, he tried to enter a synagogue next door, Congregation Netzach Yisroel, which is led by Rottenberg.
But people inside had heard the commotion and locked the door, so he left in a car.
Police officers who confronted and detained Thomas in Harlem on Saturday night found him covered with blood. The smell of bleach, possibly used to clean up the blood, wafted from his car.
The police then turned him over to authorities in Rockland County, which is northwest of New York City and where the attack took place.
Rockland County has one of the largest concentrations of ultra-Orthodox Jews outside of Israel.
Thomas, who prosecutors said they believed acted alone, is facing five counts of attempted murder and one count of first-degree burglary.
At his arraignment Sunday morning, Thomas pleaded not guilty to all charges. He appeared calm and mostly kept his head down during the arraignment.
In a letter to Cuomo, four Orthodox Jewish elected officials from New York implored the governor to declare a state of emergency and deploy the New York National Guard to protect Jewish enclaves across the state. They also urged him to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate anti-Semitic violence.
"Simply stated, it is no longer safe to be identifiably Orthodox in the state of New York. We cannot shop, walk down the street, send our children to school, or even worship in peace," they wrote.