JERSEY CITY — Five people died in a tense gun battle that started after a city police officer was shot dead in a cemetery just after noon Tuesday and ended in a kosher supermarket three and a half hours later.
The five people, which included two gunmen armed with high-powered rifles, were found dead inside the supermarket on Martin Luther King Drive at 3:30 p.m. Police Chief Mike Kelly said the gunmen killed three people in the store, but he did not say whether the gunmen took their own lives or were killed by police.
It was one of the worst, if not the worst, shooting incident in the city’s history.
Two Jersey City police officers were wounded in the standoff that drew law enforcement from other municipalities as well as the FBI, ATF and State Police. Streets were closed for blocks in every direction and schools across the city were placed on lockdown as gunfire rang out throughout the afternoon.
Area residents gathered close to the police tape, recoiling at the sound of high-powered weapons going off. Parents, some stricken with panic, waited impatiently for their children to be released from school.
“This was like the wild, wild West,” said Felicia Carmichael, who lives nearby on Orient Avenue.
It is believed the gun battle started when Detective Joe Seals, 39, was fatally shot at Bayview Cemetery. Kelly would not say what Seals, who was on duty, was doing in the cemetery, only that he came upon “bad guys.” Seals is the 35th Jersey City police officer to die in the line of duty.
The gunmen, who were not identified, fled to the store on MLK Drive near Bidwell Avenue and gunshots rang out. When police responded, the gunmen opened fire, forcing police back.
Two other police officers, Mariela Fernandez and Ray Sanchez, suffered gunshot wounds, one in the shoulder and another in the body, Kelly said. Both officers were treated at the Jersey City Medical Center and released.
“When you lose an officer they say he was a great officer and they took pride in their job,” Mayor Steve Fulop said while talking about Seals, a father of five. “In this situation it happens to be true.”
Police seized a stolen U-Haul they believe was utilized by the two gunmen. Kelly said devices that may be “incendiary” devices were found inside.
“The police department in Jersey City and our partners did an extraordinary job ... under gunfire from high-powered rifles,” Kelly said.
City Public Safety Director Jim Shea said there was no indication that this was an act of terrorism. Kelly declined to discuss any motives for the shooting, saying the investigation is in its early stages.
The names of the three people who died in the supermarket were not released Tuesday night.
“This was an incredibly tough day for Jersey City,” Gov. Phil Murphy said. “There are days that require us to stop and think about what it means to put on a uniform every day.”
Journal staff writer Peter D’Auria contributed to this report.
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