Hudson County Prosecutor Edward J. DeFazio said that the murders of Hossam Armanious, 47, his wife Amal Garas, 37 and their daughters Sylvia, 15, and Monica, 8, were still under investigation. The four were found in their Oakland Avenue home on Jan. 14 by Jersey City police officers, each in different rooms of the house, bound and gagged with puncture wounds to their throats.
Since that day, there have been a number of theories on what was the motive for their deaths, ranging from robbery to religious-based hate crime.The issue of religion in this case has fanned the anger and fear of the city's Coptic Christian community (the Armanious family were Coptic Christians), as evident from the displays of emotion at the funeral for the family on Jan. 17. Speculation was that Hossam Armanious had made comments against the religion of Islam in an internet chat room, and that the murders may have been revenge by Muslims.
Anger was also expressed last week at Ward C Councilman Steve Lipski's monthly neighborhood meeting. Speaking out on the murders
At his meeting last week at the Ukrainian Community Center, located just a few doors from the Oakland Avenue home of the late Armanious family, Councilman Lipski expressed sorrow over their passing. He reminisced about his relationship with the family and especially the eldest daughter, Sylvia.
"I was blessed to know the young lady and her family," he said. "I would see them at feasts at their church, during campaigns. I was fortunate enough to offer some words of condolence [at their funeral]. It was one of the most difficult times in my life. The only other time that I can remember was in my eulogy to Glenn D. Cunningham when he passed away."
Lipski remembered in particular Sylvia, a student at Dickinson High School who wanted to become a doctor, and who had helped out at the annual Thanksgiving dinners at the Coptic Community Center where food was served to homeless people.
He also spared no words in expressing how he felt about the murders.
"There is something very, very abnormal, something very savage, below animal, about this whole thing," he said. "And quite frankly, to anybody with common sense, it cannot be simply robbery. I personally hope that they're caught so that this never happens again to another family ... and when they are caught, I would like to, God willing that I am physically able to make it to court, ask for the death penalty."
After Lipski spoke, some Jersey City Coptic Christians spoke out about the murders and the effect it has had upon their community.
Nabil Megalla, a resident of Jersey City for the past 26 years, said that he feared for his and his family's lives. "My children are sticking to each other when they go to asleep. Myself, when I get up I can't go back to sleep," said Megalla. "I'm worried about my kids. It could happen to me, it could happen to my family."
Comments were also expressed about whether Muslim terrorism could be involved in these murders and how these terrorist elements need to be monitored.
Dr. Monir Dawoud, a practicing surgeon at various Hudson County hospitals and a Coptic Christian who has lived in Jersey City for over 30 years, gave a history of the Coptic people in Egypt (where the majority in Jersey City are originally from) and how in recent years they have suffered persecution.
"Christians in Egypt are being persecuted in Egypt every day," he said. "The media, owned by the government, only speaks about Islam and insults and despises all the Christians. So we left the citadel of civilization, of all civilization, to come to the United States to have our religious freedom, and it's really sad to all of us that we face a tragedy like the one that happened to the Armanious family."
Dawoud said that the murders could have been done by extremist members of any faith, but he believes that Muslim extremists in this country could have been behind the murders. He also expressed that he had no fear of being a target for speaking out on what he believes about the murders.
After the meeting, when Dawoud was asked whether his words would create further friction between Coptic Christians and Muslims, he said that he was only talking about Muslims who were terrorists and that he was not speaking about "good Muslims."
Also after the meeting, some Coptic Christians who did not give their names said that the $500,000 reward offered by Coptic Christian businessmen in Jersey City would go up to $1million.
They said they believe the perpetrators may already be overseas.
Also, there was an announcement by one of the attendees that a scholarship would be started at Dickinson High School in memory of Sylvia Armanious. Update on the investigation
Last week, DeFazio said that the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office does not believe that religion-based violence had anything to do with the murders.
"We don't subscribe to the sectarian violence theory, and if we had evidence of religiously motivated hate crime, then we would definitely report that," said DeFazio. "The religious sectarian hate crime theory is purely speculation and not based on the evidence so far."
DeFazio went on to say that the evidence found at the crime scene points to possible robbery, as the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office has indicated previously.
"We do know money was taken, and that there's more to the financial motivation than we know now," said DeFazio, who added that the family's financial history is currently being investigated in cooperation with federal authorities. "There was a lot of unfortunate information which didn't come from here, but nobody is trying to hide any facts or circumstances," said DeFazio. "The investigation is moving forward, and that's pretty much the story. This is something where people have to be patient and let the investigation take its course."
Also, DeFazio was asked about a claim by some local Coptic Christian residents that the oldest daughter Sylvia was raped. He said that "there's no evidence of sexual molestation or rape".
DeFazio also confirmed that the family was killed two days before they were found, but did not offer any other details on the investigation.
The investigation is ongoing and is being conducted through the joint efforts of the Jersey City Police Department, the Hudson County Prosecutor's Homicide Squad, and the FBI. Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at email@example.com