Civil rights investigators are searching for a motive in the brutal daylight stabbing Thursday of a rabbi outside a Jewish school across the street from Brighton‘s busy public square, an attack that members of the Jewish community believe was a hate crime and another in a series of antisemitic incidents nationwide.
Rabbi Shlomo Noginski was stabbed eight or nine times around 1:19 p.m. outside the Shaloh House, a Jewish day school on Chestnut Hill Avenue. The suspect, later identified as 24-year-old Khaled A. Awad, was carrying what appeared to be a gun and briefly got into an armed standoff with police before surrendering, prosecutors said.
Noginski, the father of 12 children, was reported to be in stable condition at Boston Medical Center. A motive for the attack has not been identified by authorities.
Noginski told authorities that Awad approached him with a gun and tried to force him into a van that belongs to the school, then chased him into Brighton Square and repeatedly stabbed him.
The brazen attack alarmed the local Jewish community, which organized a vigil Friday morning on Brighton Common attended by several hundred people.
“We want to send a clear message. The Jewish community is angry,” Jeremy Burton, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston, said at the vigil. “We demand that we have the right to live. The right to walk in the street. To be visible, or to not be visible, as Jews.”
Rabbi Dan Rodkin, executive director of Shaloh House, added that violent antisemitism is now confronting his community locally.
“We have experienced a lot of tragedy in our history,” Rodkin said. “But what is new is that it’s happening right here.”
Awad was arrested by Boston police shortly after the attack and arraigned in Brighton Municipal Court Friday on seven charges, including assault and battery with a dangerous weapon causing serious bodily injury and assault and battery.
During Awad’s arraignment, a not guilty plea was entered on his behalf to all charges, and he was ordered held without bail pending a dangerousness hearing slated for July 8.
A doctor appointed to examine Awad’s mental state found him competent to stand trial, though she recommended he undergo further evaluation. The doctor also said Awad has a mental illness for which he is not currently taking medication and was previously declared not competent to stand trial after a November 2020 arrest in Florida.
Awad has no prior criminal record in Massachusetts, but Florida authorities informed Boston police that he was arrested in “a couple of incidents” there in November 2020, and the cases were dropped when he was found incompetent, according to prosecutors.
At the arraignment, Assistant District Attorney Margaret Hegarty described a harrowing scene of terror and violence that played out in broad daylight on a busy Boston street.
Noginski told authorities he’d been standing in front of Shaloh House talking on his cellphone when Awad approached him brandishing a gun. Hegarty said Awad pointed the gun at Noginski and ordered the rabbi to give him the keys to the van, which was parked on Chestnut Hill Avenue.
He ordered Noginski to walk to the van and then to get inside, she said. But rather than comply, Noginski “took the opportunity to flee,” Hegarty said.
Awad chased Noginski across Chestnut Hill Avenue and into Brighton Square, where he caught up to Noginski and stabbed him repeatedly, she said. Noginski told police Awad “disengaged” once he saw that onlookers were seeing the attack as it played out “in broad daylight right here.”
Despite his wounds, Noginski managed to take a photo of the suspect with his phone. Police later viewed the photo, which shows Awad holding what appears to be a gun in his left hand, Hegarty said.
When police responded after receiving a call about 1:20 p.m. reporting a person with a gun, they found Awad behind an auto body shop. At first Awad fled, and then when he was confronted by another officer, he allegedly pointed “what appeared to be a black firearm at him,” Hegarty said. At that point, three officers drew their guns and ordered Awad multiple times to drop his weapon.
After “a brief but tense moment,” Awad surrendered, she said.
During his arrest, Awad allegedly kicked an officer in the abdomen while he was being put in the back of a police vehicle, she said.
Investigators later identified witnesses in the case and obtained cellphone video of the attack taken by a bystander, Hegarty said.
She described the alleged attack as a “harrowing, brazen act in broad daylight right here in our neighborhood in this community, where a member of our community was terrorized, chased, and stabbed numerous times.”
Richard Dyer, a lawyer for Awad, urged the court to keep an open mind about the case.
“There is no indication in the police report nor in the complaint that this is a crime of bias or hate,” he said.
Marc Baker, president of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, said the attack must be investigated as a hate crime.
“I don’t think there’s a member of our Jewish community who did not hear about this stabbing and think to themselves, ‘Oh my God, it’s happened here in Boston,’ " Baker said at the vigil. “Our community is feeling vulnerable. And we are feeling angry, wondering whether we can be safe in our own country, and our own cities.”
The vigil was organized by the Anti-Defamation League of New England, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.
Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who attended the vigil along with Acting Mayor Kim Janey, said her office is conducting a civil rights investigation into the attack on Noginski, along with the Boston police.
“We have to recognize that antisemitism is on the rise, and we need to hold people accountable when they do this, so that they are made an example of,” Rollins said. “This is a continued civil rights investigation.”
Asked about the possibility of bringing hate crime charges, Rollins said her office is researching Awad’s social media postings and other background, and can “always increase charges.” But, “Right now we just want to make sure that this rabbi is alive and going to survive,” she said. “That is our most important concern.”
The attack comes after a man went on what Rollins has described as racist and antisemitic-fueled attack in Winthrop on June 26 where he shot and killed two Black people and may have been heading to a synagogue before he was shot and killed by a Winthrop police sergeant.
Janey said she considered the attack on the rabbi to be an attack on all Boston residents. “Yesterday’s attack left the rabbi injured and our community shaken,” Janey said. “I believe that an attack on any member of our community is an attack on all of us.”
Sholom Fine, who lives two blocks from the courthouse, said he has two children, ages 9 and 7, who were at a different day camp Thursday, but he was quickly notified about the attack. “What else can you feel in that moment but panic?”
He added: “We’re (Jews) not very visible here. In New York, this kind of thing happens all of the time. But here, you never think it could happen. We’re extremely frightened.”
Travis Andersen and John R. Ellement of the Globe staff and correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed to this report.