Thu, Jun 01, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Former member of peace group a shooting suspect

STALKER The victim said his attacker was Rebekah Johnson, who was asked to leave the commune several years ago and had harassed him ever since

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

A former member of a Staten Island commune built around the ideals of nonviolence, conflict resolution and open relationships is being sought in connection with the shooting of one of the group's founders late on Monday night, law enforcement officials said on Tuesday.

The police said that the injured man, Jeff Gross, 52, was ambushed and shot three times in the chest and arms as he returned to the commune's group of homes on Corson Avenue, a working-class enclave of Victorian houses not far from the ferry terminal. Gross was in stable condition on Tuesday night at St. Vincent's Hospital Staten Island, where he underwent surgery.

Law enforcement authorities said Gross told them that his attacker was Rebekah Johnson, 42, a former resident of the commune, which is known as Ganas. She was asked to leave in the late 1990s, the authorities and commune members said, after waging what members and the police described as a crusade against Gross.

Johnson's campaign, which included accusations of rape and charges that he had forced mem-bers to marry illegal immigrants, was conducted via fliers posted on neighborhood trees, spray-painted graffiti and a Web site full of salacious accusations, they said.

"We had a detective investigate her claims, but he found no substance to them," a law enforcement official said.

Some of Johnson's actions led to her arrest last year on harassment charges.

According to a criminal complaint, Johnson would follow Gross in public and take photographs of his face. Other times, she trailed him in a car as he jogged and took pictures of him.

At the Staten Island Waterfront Festival, which Gross organizes each year, Johnson and her handmade leaflets were a familiar presence. The charges against her were eventually dropped, but Gross retained an order of protection, officials said. On Tuesday, the police were searching for Johnson in Maryland and Canada, where she has relatives, the authorities said. Gross is one of six founders of Ganas, which describes itself as a 25-year-old experiment in "open dialogue that is based on full disclosure," according to its Web site.

The group owns 10 homes, which house nearly 100 members. It also operates three stores that sell secondhand clothing and refurbished appliances.

Investigators said Johnson was waiting for Gross in the bushes as he approached his front door just before midnight on Monday. Residents reported an argument, a series of shots and then screams.

"No one can understand why she singles him out," one member of the commune said on Tuesday night. "He's kind of sweet, kind of goofy."

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