JERSEY CITY, N.J. (WCBS 880) — A veteran police officer, two suspects and three bystanders are dead following a furious four-hour long gunbattle that turned Jersey City into a war zone on Tuesday afternoon in what the mayor described as a "targeted" incident.
A massive police response, including SWAT teams, the FBI and Newark’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), descended on Bay View Cemetery and a store at Martin Luther King Drive near Bayview Avenue around 12:30 p.m.
Jersey City Police Chief Mike Kelly said the standoff began when officers received calls of shots fired near 223 Martin Luther King Drive. When units arrived at the scene, they were immediately engaged by high-powered rifle fire.
However, Kelly notes that entire incident started when a group of officers confronted suspects near near the cemetery on Garfield Avenue. There, two officers were injured and one officer was fatally struck by gunfire.
Mayor Steven Fulop confirmed that officer was Detective Joe Seals, who joined the Jersey City Police Department in 2006. He was assigned to the Cease Fire Unit and was a leading police officer in removing guns off the street. Fulop notes he was a husband and father of five.
“Officers in other precincts knew who he was because he was a good cop,” said Fulop.
Meanwhile, the shooting on MLK Drive continued to escalate and gunfire lasted for hours between two suspects and officers. It’s believed the main crime scene was inside JC Kosher Supermarket – a local grocery store.
"Our officers were under fire for hours, two more police officers were hit by gunfire. One sustained an injury to the shoulder, one sustained an injury to the body. Those officers have since been released from the hospital," Chief Kelly said.
When gunfire finally ended, five people were found dead inside the store. The dead include two suspects and three bystanders.
No motive was immediately given for the shooting Tuesday afternoon but Mayor Fulop said there is no indication of terrorism.
The mayor said late Tuesday that the location was targeted by the suspects.
Chief Kelly adds that he investigation will take "weeks, maybe months" to complete since the crime scene is "very extensive and is at three locations at least."
The third location is believed to be where a stolen U-Haul was parked in the city. Authorities say it may have contained an incendiary device, which is currently being examined by the city's Bomb Squad.
It’s unclear if anyone was injured at the third location.
Videos posted to social media captured the wild scene as officers exchanged heavy gunfire with the suspects.
President Donald Trump was briefed on the shooting during the afternoon and had been monitoring the situation. He sent his thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families.
Gov. Phil Murphy also issued a statement: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the men and women of the Jersey City Police Department, especially with the officers shot during this standoff, and with the residents and schoolchildren currently under lockdown," Murphy stated. "I have every confidence in our law enforcement professionals to ensure the safety of the community and resolve this situation. Today reminds us of their bravery and the sacrifices they, and their families, make for our communities."
New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal issued a statement saying the state is "grateful" for the police officers' "service and their sacrifice."
The New Jersey State PBA also took to Twitter to request prayers for Jersey City officers.
The shooting happened across the street from Sacred Heart School, which was placed on lockdown along with other schools in the area.
Jersey City's mayor said all schools in the area are secure and all children accounted for. The lockdown was lifted at 4:15 p.m.
Bayonne schools had also been sheltering in place.
The FBI asked the public to stay away from the area of Martin Luther King Drive near the light rail station as well as Bay View Cemetery.
New Jersey Transit temporarily suspended shuttle bus and Hudson Bergen Light Rail Bayonne Branch Service.
New Jersey State Police says Exit 14B and the Newark Bay Extension of the New Jersey Turnpike were closed to divert traffic flow from the area. Traffic in the area is expected to be heavy as the investigation continues into the evening.