Jersey City, NJ – Jersey City Police Department (JCPD) Detective Joseph Seals was murdered in the line of duty as he was conducting a homicide investigation on Tuesday.
The 40-year-old undercover detective was at the Bayview Cemetery when he spotted a van associated with an earlier homicide, The New York Times reported.
When he approached the suspects, one of them shot him in the back of his head, just behind his ear, according to NJ.com.
Det. Seals was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
The shooters – a man and a woman dressed entirely in black – fled the cemetery, WNBC reported.
At about 12:20 p.m., the suspects arrived at the JC Kosher Supermarket on Martin Luther King Drive and Bayview Avenue in a stolen U-Haul van, the New York Daily News reported.
NJ.com reported that the shooters parked the truck at the corner store and then each carried one gun inside.
Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly later said that the shooters were armed with high-powered rifles, The New York Times reported.
The suspects were firing at anyone they spotted on the street – both police and civilians – and residents were urged to stay inside their homes and away from the windows as authorities worked for hours to stop the shooters, according to the New York Daily News.
The gunmen also fired shots at the nearby schools, in addition to pedestrians.
Superintendent of Jersey City Schools Frank Walker told WNBC that gunfire could be heard on the streets and all of the nearby schools immediately took precautions and went into lockdown.
Law enforcement officers including tactical SWAT units responded to the scene from all over the region, WNBC reported.
Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also responded to the scene to assist.
Jersey City Police Officer Mariela Fernandez and Officer Ray Sanchez were both hit by gunfire during the shootout, The New York Times reported.
One of the officers suffered a gunshot wound to the body, while the other was hit in the shoulder, Chief Kelly confirmed.
Both wounded officers were treated and released from the hospital by late Tuesday night.
The incident came to an end in a barrage of gunfire after more than two hours, and police founds five people fatally shot inside the supermarket.
Two of the five people found dead inside the store were the two suspects, WNBC reported.
NJ.com reported that pipe bombs had been found inside the U-Haul truck the suspects had been driving.
Police initially said they did not believe the store was specifically targeted by the gunmen as a hate crime, but they changed that assessment by late Tuesday, The New York Times reported.
“Based on our initial investigation (which is ongoing) we now believe the active shooters targeted the location they attacked,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop tweeted without elaborating. “We have no indication there are any further threats.”
Law enforcement sources have identified the shooters as David Anderson and Francine Graham, WNBC reported.
Three sources told WNBC that Anderson was a one-time follower of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, a black supremacist hate group which believes that they are the descendants of a lost tribe of Israelites and that Jews are imposters.
The hate group previously made headlines after harassing students from Covington Catholic High School, when news media spread false reports that the students were the ones harassing a a group of black people and Native American drummer Nathan Phillips.
Det. Seals, a 15-year veteran-of-the-force, was assigned to the city’s Cease Fire unit at the time of his murder, The New York Times reported.
The unit focuses on taking firearms out of the hands of criminals and reducing the number of shootings throughout the city.
“He was our leading police officer in removing guns from the street,” Chief Kelly said, according to The New York Times. “Dozens of dozens of handguns he is responsible for removing from the street.”
Det. Seal’s neighbor, Anthony Dellisanti, said he noticed the detective’s wife out raking leaves in front of their home hours before the shooting, NJ.com reported.
A while later, a swarm of patrol vehicles showed up at the house, picked up Det. Seal’s family, and drove away.
He leaves behind a wife and five young children.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Joe’s family during this Christmas season and beyond,” Fulop said, according to NJ.com. “We take for granted sometimes the selfless work a police officer does when they wear that uniform. In the end they are people that volunteered to keep everyone else safe regardless of the circumstances.”
Det. Seals and one of his fellow officers made headlines in 2008, when they climbed up a fire escape on Christmas Eve to apprehend an attacker who had broken into a woman’s home and attempted to sexually assault her, NJ.com reported.
The suspect attacked the officers before he was taken to the ground.
“We mourn the loss of a brave member of the Jersey City police force. He gave his life in the line of duty,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy said on Tuesday night.
Murphy said that the attacked marked “an incredibly tough day” for the entire state, and that it should make people “stop and think about what it takes to put on a uniform,” NJ.com reported.
“We’d all give anything to have Det. Seals back and the other people who passed away today,” Jersey City Public Safety Director James Shea said, according to USA Today. “But there is no question the Jersey City Police Department did what they were supposed to do to protect that neighborhood.”
Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Jersey City Police Department Detective Joseph Seals, both blood and blue. Thank you for your service.
Detective Joseph Seals, your life mattered.