Steve Janoski NorthJersey.com
Published 4:00 a.m. ET Oct. 29, 2021
A man knifed and left for dead in Little Ferry.
A woman beaten to death with a hammer in Northvale.
A grandfather allegedly killed by his ax-wielding grandson in Elmwood Park.
A woman who authorities say was stabbed and killed by her live-in boyfriend in Washington Township.
This sort of blood and mayhem is not how a typical October in Bergen County looks. “This is very surprising — this is not the Bergen County I know,” said Brian Higgins, a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan and the former chief of the Bergen County Police Department. “I can’t recall, in my whole career dating back to the 1980s, when we’ve had a week like this.”
But the string of killings might not surprise the law enforcement experts who earlier this year predicted big spikes in violence as the country reemerges from its lockdowns, quarantines and general COVID-19 panic. The pandemic burdened everyday Americans with an extraordinary amount of stress — a load many were ill-equipped to handle. At the same time, a storm of national crises overwhelmed America, from the controversies over the high-profile deaths of Black people in police custody to the toxic presidential election to the Jan. 6 insurrection in Washington, D.C. Those, in turn, bled into the new crop of stressors that rose just as the COVID waves began to recede — job losses, inflation, and supply chain disruptions that have driven up the price of everything from cars to coffee and gasoline.
“There’s so many things going on right now, people really seem to be on edge,” Higgins said. “Life isn’t normal yet.”
Authorities have not released much information about the four killings, all of which
happened in typically sleepy suburban towns over a 10-day period starting Oct. 19.
But they do share some similarities. None involved a handgun — police said the weapons are
two knives, an ax and a hammer. And two of the four incidents were domestic disputes.
“These were crimes of passion, of opportunity,” Higgins said. “They didn’t plan it out.”
Marc MacYoung, an author and expert witness in self-defense and interpersonal violence,
said weapons — knives in particular — are often brandished during an argument to force the
other party to stand down.
“The person doesn’t necessarily mean to kill,” MacYoung said. “What they’re actually trying
to do is scare the other person away most times. They’re trying to show how serious they are,
and the person who puts on the biggest bluff wins.”
Of course, sometimes things go wrong. The other party doesn’t back down as expected. Or
worse, the target provokes the brandisher, who snaps — and attacks. “It’s an emotional decision rather than a homicidal one,” MacYoung said. “But it can turn homicidal.”
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From there, the situation quickly worsens. It’s incredibly difficult to fend off a committed assailant holding an edged weapon. Many experts view knives as more lethal than guns at close range — most victims don’t even know they’re being stabbed until after they’re cut. And it takes little skill to do severe, sometimes fatal damage. The number of killings has exploded in the last two years — FBI statistics showed a nearly 30% jump in homicides in 2020 over the year before, according a September report from NPR.
That was the largest single-year increase ever recorded, with 21,570 killings, according to NPR. The overall violent crime rate, which includes murder, assault, robbery and rape, also ticked up by about 5%.
But locally, the trend didn’t hold up.
Crime in Bergen County remained stable in 2019 and 2020, according to the annual crime reports the State Police submit to the FBI. There were nine Bergen slayings each in 2019 and 2020, the reports showed. The number of rapes rose by one in 2020, to 62. Robberies fell, sinking to 135 last year from 164 in 2019, the reports said. And the number of assaults dropped from 475 in 2019 to 355 in 2020. The State Police did not have data readily available for 2021, a spokesman said.
Domestic dispute calls surge
The steady crime numbers might be somewhat comforting to residents. Bergen County doesn’t have much random street crime, Higgins said. And most offenses —
even the homicides — stem from personal disputes between people who know each other. But the recent October run of killings isn’t a good sign. Especially when half were related to domestic violence.
The number of reported domestic violence incidents in New Jersey has remained relatively steady during the past three years, according to State Police statistics. Law enforcement reported about 59,600 incidents in 2019, 62,550 in 2020 and more than 51,000 so far in 2021.
That puts New Jersey on pace for 2020’s total.
But the calls for help from victims of domestic violence surged during the pandemic, according to Julye Myner, executive director of the Center for Hope and Safety, a victims services nonprofit in Rochelle Park. From 2019 to 2020, the center’s hotline saw a 46% increase in the number of incoming calls, Myner said — even when she includes the lengthy period of silence during last year’s lockdowns, when many victims were trapped inside with their abusers and could not reach out for help. But what’s more shocking is that the calls keep coming in — they haven’t waxed and waned over the seasons as they usually do, Myner said. “I’m actually surprised the numbers haven’t started to go down,” Myner said. “I think we’re
going to be at this higher level for a while.” Acting New Jersey Attorney General Andrew Bruck echoed this in a statement, saying there had been a 5% increase in domestic violence offenses in 2020 over 2019. “We know anecdotally that the hardships and isolation caused by the pandemic have been especially harmful to many facing domestic violence,” Bruck said. “My office is committed to standing up for these survivors.” Myner stressed that it’s critically important for those who think they may be stuck in the cycle of domestic abuse to reach out to a professional for help. Especially if they’re
considering fleeing. “When the abuser believes the victim is trying to escape, that’s when she’s at the highest risk
for lethality,” Myner said. “Victims typically know that too… a lot of them know instinctively
how dangerous it is for them to leave.” Victims can call the center’s hotline, even if it’s just to check in, she said.
“They know they’re not alone, there’s somebody there waiting for their call and to support them,” Myner said. “It makes a huge difference.”
If you are in immediate danger, call 911.
The Center for Hope and Safety hotline provides 24/7 support and can be reached at 201- 944-9600. If you cannot speak safely, text LOVEIS to 22522.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers confidential calls and chats any time, day or night. You can reach advocates at 1-800-799-7233 or thehotline.org.
The New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline also provides confidential 24-hour support at 1-