Albany police officers gather outside Temple Israel, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2023, in Albany, N.Y. (AP Photo/Maysoon Khan)
ALBANY, N.Y. — A man fired a shotgun twice outside a Jewish temple in upstate New York, hours before the start of Hanukkah on Thursday, then said “Free Palestine” as he was taken into custody, police said. No one was injured.
The episode in the state capital of Albany took place amid rising fears of antisemitism worldwide and fallout from Israel’s intensifying war in Gaza, which faces heightened criticism for the mounting Palestinian death toll.
The gunfire outside Temple Israel happened at around 2 p.m. and a 28-year-old man was in custody, according to officials. Police did not identify the man, but Gov. Kathy Hochul said he was a local resident.
A passerby talked to the gunman near the temple about 10 minutes after the shots were fired. The man dropped the shotgun before officers arrived on the scene and detained him, Albany Police Chief Eric Hawkins told reporters at the scene.
“We were told by responding officers that he made a comment, ‘Free Palestine,'” Hawkins said.
The chief said the episode was being investigated as a hate crime and that there was no indication other people were involved. The FBI office in Albany confirmed it was investigating along with other law enforcement agencies.
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan said children had been at a preschool inside the building when the shots were fired. Hochul said the facility went into lockdown and that parents have since been reunited with their kids.
The governor called the episode particularly deplorable because it occurred at the start of Hanukkah, which began Thursday evening at sundown.
“The prospect of violence in a place of worship is not just an attack on a building, it’s an attack on the very fabric of our society, our freedom to express our faith, our collective shared sense of safety,” Hochul said at a briefing in New York City.
Shirl Hall, a neighbor who lives across the street from the synagogue, was surprised to learn there was gunfire in the otherwise quiet neighborhood.
“I seen police cars. I saw the area on lockdown,” said Hall. “There’s so much going on in the world. It’s sad. People are going through it and there are mental health issues everywhere.”
Hochul said she directed the state police and New York National Guard to be on high alert and to increase planned patrols of at-risk sites for the holiday.
Temple Israel Rabbi Wendy Love Anderson told reporters she was thankful to staff who ensured the safety of those inside the building, including the children.
“After this press conference, we’re going to be lighting Hanukkah candles,” she said, “because we need light in darkness.”
Amy Spitalnick, the CEO of Jewish Council for Public Affairs, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, “this feels sadly inevitable as we’ve repeatedly seen antisemites target synagogues and Jewish people and businesses as ‘retribution’ for Israel.”
Associated Press writer Michael Hill contributed.
Maysoon Khan is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow her on X, formerly Twitter: @MaysoonKhan.
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