In an emotional video released Monday, U.S. District Judge Esther Salas of New Jersey publicly spoke about her son’s brutal killing last month for the first time and criticized the lack of privacy and protection afforded to federal judges.
“Two weeks ago, my life as I knew it changed in an instant, and my family will never be the same,” Salas said of the July 19 attack at her home in North Brunswick, New Jersey, when a gunman reportedly posing as a delivery driver rang her doorbell, fatally shot her son, Daniel, 20, and critically injured her husband, attorney Mark Anderl.
Salas, New Jersey's first Hispanic federal judge, spoke about the incident publicly for the first time, saying her family had just celebrated Daniel’s birthday and they were cleaning up the house that Sunday in July when the doorbell rang.
“Daniel looked at me and said, ‘Who is that?’” Salas recalled. “And before I could say a word, he sprinted upstairs. Within seconds, I heard the sound of bullets and someone screaming, 'No!'"
Salas said Daniel, the couple's only child, took a bullet “directly to the chest” trying to protect his father, who is still in the hospital recovering from three bullet wounds.
“My family has experienced a pain that no one should ever have to endure,” she said.
In her nine-minute statement, Salas said her family's tragedy must be used to figure out how to better protect people in her position.
“Currently, federal judges’ addresses and other information is readily available on the internet,” she said. “This monster knew where I lived and what church we attended and had a complete dossier on me and my family.”
Salas said there is nothing judges can do to protect themselves from people like the suspect, and said that’s unacceptable.
Currently, federal judges are offered some protections from the U.S. Marshals Service, but others on the bench have been sounding the alarm that more is needed to be done.
According to data compiled by the Marshals Service, some 4,449 documented threats and “inappropriate communication” were recorded against members of the federal judiciary in 2019. That number is unusually high; on average, the service has seen 1,350 threats and inappropriate communications against judicial members annually since 2015.
U.S. District Judge Joan Lefkow for the Northern District of Illinois, whose husband and mother were shot and killed by an aggrieved former plaintiff 15 years ago, lobbied Congress in the aftermath to do more to protect federal judges.
“I know this is a complicated issue, and I don’t pretend to know or have all answers, but together we can find a way,” Salas said, calling for a “national dialogue” to prevent her son from “dying in vain.”