Woman sought in NY commune shooting captured in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA — A woman sought in the shooting of a Staten Island commune leader more than a year ago was captured Monday getting off a train, federal authorities said.

Rebekah Johnson was being held on a fugitive charge in the shooting of Jeff Gross, who helped found the Staten Island-based Ganas community.

Johnson, 44, was captured at 11 a.m. by a fugitive task force as she stepped off an elevated train in West Philadelphia, officials said. She is wanted for attempted murder.

“We had prior intelligence that she was going to be there, coming off the El,” said Robert Kurtz, acting supervisor of the U.S. Marshals Service task force. “She didn’t try to escape.”

Johnson, described as a disgruntled former member of the group, was accused of ambushing Gross outside his home and shooting him in the chest and arm on May 29, 2006. He was shot five times but survived.

In interviews last month marking the crime’s anniversary, Gross said he remained fearful of Johnson and had gone into hiding, moving out of the commune he helped start in 1979.

“I don’t want her to come back there. I’m in the process of starting a new life,” Gross told the Staten Island Advance. “It’d be too dangerous for me to be living there.”

Johnson lived with the community from 1986 to 1990 and again from 1994 to 1996 but was later asked to leave, neighbors and commune members have said. She later accused the group of sexual assault and brainwashing while Gross accused Johnson of stalking him.

The Ganas community, which claims doctors and lawyers among its members, promotes group problem-solving, environmentalism and diversity while eschewing violence. Today, about 80 members share eight homes, paying about $700 a month for room and board or lesser amounts if they work in the group’s used-furniture and clothing stores.

“We want to bring reason and emotion together in daily problem solving in order to create our world, with love, the way we want it to be,” the group states.

Johnson was expected to be arraigned on the fugitive charge in Philadelphia Monday night or Tuesday. Authorities were seeking to extradite her to New York to face the attempted murder charge.

It was not immediately clear if she had a lawyer.

According to Ganas lawyer Edward W. Hayes, the tip apparently came from someone on the train who had seen Johnson featured on “America’s Most Wanted.” He said Gross did not plan any immediate comment.

“He feels a little better,” Hayes said. “She’s a very dangerous person … (and) for a year, nobody could find her.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday June 18, 2007.
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