Commune Shooting Suspect May Have Stalked Victim
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The suspect in the shooting of a Staten Island commune leader had a personal vendetta against him, and an arrest record she earned for reportedly stalking him.
Rebekah Johnson, 43, a former commune member, allegedly waged a campaign against Jeff Gross, a co-founder of the Staten Island community Ganas, who was shot outside his home Monday night. Since 2004, Ms. Johnson is accused of following Mr. Gross on several occasions, court papers show, and on at least one occasion she reportedly distributed fliers describing Mr. Gross’s involvement in alleged sexual misconduct at the commune.
Yesterday, police said Ms. Johnson is the primary suspect in the shooting, which occurred as Mr. Gross was walking home along Corsen Avenue in St. George. Police said they believe Ms. Johnson jumped out of the bushes and shot him four times with a .380 caliber gun, hitting him once in the chest and twice in the left arm before fleeing. Mr. Gross was taken to St. Vincent’s hospital, where he continued to recover yesterday after surgery for his wounds. Ms. Johnson is at large.
Outside Ganas yesterday, resident Nicole Fenton read a statement from the cooperative that said Ms. Johnson had left Ganas more than a decade ago, but had returned and begun a “campaign of harassment” against Mr. Gross over allegations law enforcement officials dismissed. “Most recently, Jeff got a restraining order to protect himself from her, but Monday night’s event indicates that his efforts were to no avail,” she said.
A criminal complaint filed with the Richmond County District Attorney showed Ms. Johnson was arrested in 2004 for stalking. Charges apparently stemmed from two incidents in which she jumped in front of Mr. Gross and took pictures of him, including once when she followed him in her car as he was jogging, the complaint said. Ms. Johnson also distributed fliers alleging a kind of sexual musical chairs at the commune, police said.
According to a spokesman for the D.A.’s office, Mr. Gross filed an order of protection against her in 2004, although charges for the criminal complaint were dropped in May 2005.
A resident of the commune, Anna, who declined to give her last name, described Ganas as a peaceful and respectful place to live. “The relationships you have with people is sort of your own business,” she said.
Monday night’s violence marred the peaceful Staten Island enclave, where around 90 people live together in communal residences that have existed quietly since 1979. Living together on a leafy street in St. George, residents are committed to nonviolence, and abide by only four rules: nonviolence, no free rides, no illegality, and all complaints about the community must be brought to the group.
While the group has no official leader, it is led by a core group of 14 members who serve as a board of directors. Ganas reportedly has about $10 million in real estate holdings, including the 10 homes on Corsen Street and Scribner Avenue, and property upstate and abroad. For financial support, the group relies on core members’ pooled resources, and proceeds from the group’s four retail stores, Everything Goes, including two thrift stores. Residents pay $710 for single rooms, or $510 for doubles.
Perceived as a relic of the 1970s, the quiet community in Staten Island is probably the city’s only nonreligious intentional community, although a handful of smaller, faith-based residences exist.
In Manhattan, the Neighborhood House is affiliated with the Jan Hus Presbyterian Church, a progressive Protestant church on East 74th Street. Residents pay between $500 and $600, a month, plus do 10 hours of community service a week, she said. “It’s a blend of having a small community in a big city, in a way,” the church’s pastor, Moira Ahearne, said.