Group at NJ church pepper-sprayed and smoke bombed, rector says
🎵 People attending a concert at a church were attacked by an unknown assailant, a reverend says
🙏 It happened the same weekend a masked man threw a Molotov cocktail at an NJ synagogue
💰 A $10,000 reward is being offered for information in the attempted arson
ASBURY PARK — A possible bias incident at a church the same weekend as an attack on a New Jersey synagogue is under investigation, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office.
Officials say the incident occurred at Trinity Episcopal Church in Asbury Park on Friday night sometime between 9 and 10:30 p.m. At the time, an anti-racism event was being held at the church.
The church's rector, Reverend Chase Danford, said in a statement Monday afternoon that an unidentified person tried to pepper-spray a group of people standing outside the church's community building. Danford said the group had been attending a concert to benefit a Jersey-based anti-racism organization.
"Thankfully, no one was injured. We are incredibly grateful for the support we
have received," Danford said, thanking law enforcement and state officials.
The reverend said that the attacker also threw smoke bombs. And the church's LGBTQ+ Pride flag was vandalized, something Danford said has happened twice before in recent months.
Located along Asbury Avenue, the Trinity Episcopal Church on its website says it has an "open, inclusive and progressive" denomination.
The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office confirmed it is investigating the incident as a possible bias crime. In a statement, the office said Prosecutor Raymond Santiago "wished to remind the public that any act of bias, perceived or otherwise, towards a race and or religious group, will not be tolerated in our local communities."
A spokesman for the prosecutor's office declined to comment Monday when asked for more information.
🙏 NJ houses of worship targeted
Less than 48 hours after the incident in Asbury Park, a man in a ski mask threw a Molotov cocktail at a synagogue in Bloomfield, police said. The attempted arson early Sunday morning is under investigation.
Surveillance cameras at Temple Ner Tamid recorded the suspect lighting the homemade firebomb. However, the glass bottle broke against the building's front door and only caused minimal damage.
A $10,000 reward was announced early Monday afternoon for information leading to the suspect's arrest. The Essex County Sheriff's Crime Stoppers Program is offering the reward.
Attorney General Matthew Platkin released a statement Sunday addressing both the Bloomfield and Asbury Park attacks.
"I want to reassure all New Jerseyans – especially our friends and neighbors of the Black community and the Jewish faith – that law enforcement continues to take the appropriate steps to increase our presence around sensitive places so that everyone in our state can worship, love, and live without fear of violence or threat," Platkin said.
The state LGBTQ+ Democratic caucus condemned both attacks, calling antisemitism, homophobia, and transphobia "inextricably linked and driven by common rhetoric."
"We stand against all anti-Semitic hate and recognize the intersection of anti-Semitism and homophobia/transphobia as inextricably linked and driven by common rhetoric," the caucus said. "Our LGBTQ youth particularly need us to stand vocally in the face of hatred."