Photo by Kindel Media from Pexels

TRENTON – An Ocean County man has been charged with throwing smoke bombs into a crowd and attempting to pepper spray people leaving an anti-racism concert at an Asbury Park church in January, the Attorney General’s Office announced Monday.

Nicholas G. Mucci, 28, of Toms River, was arrested on March 4, 2023 and charged with causing or risking widespread injury or damage (2nd degree), possession of a weapon (explosives) for unlawful purposes (2nd degree), arson (3rd degree), aggravated assault (3rd degree), terroristic threats (3rd degree), and possession of a destructive device (3rd degree), according to a joint statement issued by Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Division of Criminal Justice.

Mucci is being held at the Monmouth County Jail pending a detention hearing.

The incident occurred on January 27, 2023, during a concert at the Trinity Episcopal Parish on Asbury Avenue in Asbury Park. The concert was organized by a group known as the “One People’s Project”, which bills itself as an anti-racism, social justice organization.

According to the charges and documents filed in the case, at around 9:00 p.m., as the concert was ending, Mucci, wearing a black face covering approached the church and blocked the attendees from leaving. He allegedly yelled, “White lives matter, too,” and threw two smoke bombs toward the church and into the exiting crowd before driving off in a dark-colored SUV.

Surveillance video of the event, captured by the church’s video camera, showed a vehicle resembling Mucci’s SUV approach the church and two items being thrown from the driver’s side of the vehicle. As smoke began filling the air and the crowd became visibly alarmed, the vehicle rapidly sped away.

Witnesses reported seeing a dark-colored vehicle circling the church following the incident. Shortly after 10:00 p.m., the same vehicle entered the church parking lot where a few remaining concert-goers still gathered. Mucci, still clad in a black face covering, allegedly exited the vehicle and attempted to pepper spray the group while again shouting, “White lives matter.” He then allegedly got back into his vehicle and left.

An investigation by New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (NJOHSP) and Division of Criminal Justice (DCJ) determined that a license plate reader installed in the area identified a vehicle matching the description of a car known to be operated by Mucci as having been present when the incident occurred.

Cell phone records obtained during the investigation indicated that Mucci’s cell phone had “gone dark” during the time of the incident. Additionally, physical evidence recovered at the scene determined that the smoke bombs were purchased from a fireworks store in Morrisville, Pennsylvania.

The investigation revealed that Mucci allegedly purchased identical items from the store on October 23, 2022 and provided out-of-state photo identification in order to make the purchase.

“New Jersey is, and always will be, a state that values the rich diversity of all cultures, religions, and ideals,” said Attorney General Platkin in a statement. “This attack targeted people exercising their freedom of expression as they left a house of worship.”

“The alleged actions of this defendant presented a clear risk to the public that could have ended in tragedy,” said Director Pearl Minato of the Division of Criminal Justice. “I commend the members of law enforcement for their collaborative work in identifying and apprehending the defendant, who will now face justice for his alleged crimes.”

“This investigation was a great example of outstanding teamwork and collaboration among all levels of government,” said Director Laurie Doran, of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness. “I am proud of the men and women of NJOHSP and all of our partner agencies who protected the residents of New Jersey by successfully mitigating this serious threat.”

The following agencies provided support; the Federal Bureau of Investigations, the New Jersey State Police, the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, the Ocean County Sheriff’s Office, the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, the Wall Police Department, the Toms River Police Department and the Berkeley Township Police Department.

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