Thousands of people from all over the country have taken to the social networking site Facebook to express their grief and sympathy for the four Mainland Regional High School students who died Saturday in a single-car crash on the Garden State Parkway.

Many have chosen to change their profile picture to a single candle to “light Facebook up” as a virtual symbol of solidarity during a time in which the communities of Linwood, Northfield and Somers Point grieve together.

“To the Mainland Mustangs Football Team and Families, I say stay strong and know that from the ashes you will rise,” John Pantilione wrote on the wall of the “R.I.P Mainland HS Boys. Gone but never forgotten.” Facebook page. “The Vineland community grieves with you, and may God’s Love bring you peace.”

Edgar Bozzi, Nick Conner, Casey Brenner and Dean Khoury died when the 2002 Ford Explorer they were in overturned several times near Exit 38A in the southbound lanes of the Parkway. Four others — Jacob Smith, Kyle Beattie, Alex DeNafo, and Kenneth Randall — were injured in the crash, but have been released from the hospital.

Pantilione’s comment was just one of hundreds of comments of support. The page, which was created Saturday evening, has expanded to more than 30,180 members as of 12:35 a.m. Monday.

News of the accident has been picked up by national media outlets, and the online community has grown into a nationwide support network. Comments posted Sunday included those from people in several states, including South Carolina, Iowa and California.

Charlotte Markey, associate professor of psychology at Rutgers University in Camden, said the growth of the Facebook page highlighted the power of social networking, but it should not be examined as a measure of how many people knew the football players who died.

“There’s a bit of rubbernecking going on, too,” Markey said Sunday.

Markey said the creation of an online forum to express grief has become an accepted phenomenon, but she was not familiar with research that has analyzed that growing trend.

She said how people choose to cope is a personal decision, but communication through an impersonal, nonface-to-face forum should not replace speaking with another person.

“The anonymity can be good for people to express themselves,” she said. “But I think there are downsides to not owning those emotions, too.”

Lisa Athan, of Springfield, Union County, a counselor and executive director of Grief Speaks, said social networking is how teens share and communicate, and Facebook can be a valuable way for students to grieve.

“It really is a powerful way to grieve,” she said, adding that some schools will also put up large sheets of blank paper so students can leave written messages.

She said reading the messages of love and support for their children can also provide comfort to grieving families.

Athan advised that schools assign someone to monitor the Facebook page for signs that friends or classmates of the victims are having trouble coping with the accident so they can reach out to them in person.

“There can be survivor guilt even among students who were not there,” Athan said. “Or the accident may bring back memories of another tragedy in their lives.”

As online readers of The Press of Atlantic City learn of the news, they have also turned the comments section of the initial breaking news story into an impromptu online sympathy card. There were nearly 500 comments posted by Sunday evening.

Staff Writer Diane D’Amico contributed to this report.

Contact Caitlin Dineen:


Some comments taken from the memorial page:

Nancy Mastroianni Morrin: “As a former mainland mustang football mom, you have my deepest sympathy and will be in my thoughts and prayers and I ask God to give you all strength. may God bless them and keep them near to him. you will always be in my prayers. rest in peace. God bless you all.”

Charles Reynolds: “I am so sorry for your Losses! I was once on a football team who lost a player so I understand your pain...My Prayers Go Out to The Family, Friends, And Team Memphis, TN”

Amy Hofeld Meyer: “We raise our children. We teach them to be good students. To be athletes. To do the right things. Just like these boys. And yet tragedy still happens. So very sad. To the friends and families, may the outpouring of support from across this country give you the strength to get through this time. Love, from a Mainland graduate. Class of 1988.”

Selena Newlin Braunstein: “My prayers to all the families of these boys. I cannot imagine what they are going through. I have had a lump in my throat ever since hearing about this tragedy. I have a 17-year-old son and I worry every time he walks out the door. I pray these families have the strength they need.”

Barbara Ann Mellace: “My heart is broken into pieces over the loss of these beautiful young lives. May the Lord give comfort & peace to the families & friends of these boys as only He can. My prayers and heart are with you all.”

Lynn Neeley Plumbley: “Please know prayers are being lifted up for these four young men that died and the four that survived. Also, for the families — that all of you may feel His loving arms holding you throughout this horrible tragedy. I pray that He gives you the strength and grace you’ll need during this most difficult time in your lives. Praying in Texas!! God bless!”

Stephanie Masco: “You can shed tears that they’re gone, or you can smile because they lived. You can close your eyes and pray they’ll come back or u can open your eyes and see all they left. Your heart can be empty cause you can’t see them or you can be full of love they shared... God has the four most beautiful angels who will be right there with us tonight at mainland — forever a mustang! I know you boys will always be watching down on us. Love & miss you boys — rest easy”

Zach Delcher: “R.I.P. Dean I just saw you a couple days ago but i didnt know it would be the last conversation I’d have with you. Math was fun this year and it was even better when we played in little league together. R.I.P. ed, casey, nick, dean”

Paul Kello: “My prayers go out to the families. This is such a horrible story. For those of you who knew them don’t ever stop talking and telling stories about these young men. These guys have a football and friendship bond that is so strong. I recall the years I played and how cool it was to always be around eachother, doubles, eating together and so many hours of football. To the family and friends I am so sorry for your losses.”

Patty Fraser: “I can’t seem to shake this heavy heart. I have a feeling that from this day forward there will be four more stars in the sky. Even though so far away ... the brightness and warmth will reach us ... to make the night a little less dark. RIP Lost Boys ... We must help these families be strong ... Its time to come together ... Hugs ... Reach Out ... My Heart Aches.”

Stephen Capecci: “Having been part of the Mustang football family atmosphere! I cant help but feel like I just lost four of my brothers. I will have these four young men and the rest of the Mustang family in my thoughts. Its been an honor to have worn the Mustang uniform with them.”

Debbie Rose Urban: “This is such an unimaginable tragedy, my heart goes out to the families of those boys who were taken far too soon.”

Stephannie Lopez: “Just drove by Mainland High School and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of sorrow. I don’t know any of the victims or their families, but please know all of you are in my prayers. R.I.P. Boys, may heavens fields be greener”

Ilene Rifkin Epstein: “I am absolutely sick for the parents and families of these young men. It is unfathomable the depth of this grief. I pray for strength to get through this terribly tough time.”

Rob Baran: “Edgar J. Bozzi, aka spanish version of LL Cool J. You were so funny and nice to work with. Thursdays convo at work was hilarious. You made me smile when I was mad sometimes and turned my day around. This wasn’t supposed to happen to you or anyone of your buddies. RIP buddy. Watch over your family. Especially mike. He is staying strong! See you soon. RIP to the three others, nick, Casey, and dean. Watch over the other four passengers!!!”

Holly Lamey: “It’s the silent tears we cry, that bring us together to share our loss. To the Brenner family and to the Khoury, Conner and Bozzi families, no one can know the depth of your sadness. Please know it with heavy hearts the Mainland “family” shares in your grief, your sons touched the lives of many and will be sadly missed. We never know how strong we are, until strength is our only choice. God’s speed boys.”

Anne Carr: “Words cannot express the sorrow....May God be your comfort and fill you with His love and peace.”

Lisa Peteraf: “May God bless the families and friends of these young men. I am so sorry for your loss. I am hugging my three kids a little tighter today.”

Morgan Gerety: “you were four of the best and nicest boys i have ever met. the memories i had with you four will be my favorite for ever? i dont think this will ever seem real to me, but i love you all so much. i never heard one bad word come out of your mouths towards me that wasn’t just to make me laugh, you all were the sweetest and you know how much i loved each of you. god is lucky to have you now, watch over us boys. once a mustang, always a mustang.”

Danielle Slota: “Mainland has always been a family. At this time, we all need to pull together like we always do. My thoughts and prayers are with my “family” during this unimaginable time of grief. Rest Easy guys, you were taken far too soon. xoxo”

Amie Sacco-Sykes: “No words can truly express how sad and devastating this event is. My sincerest thoughts and prayers go out to the four families who lost their precious sons.”

Debby Cheli: “So sad, no parent should have to bury their child. I didn’t know any of them but just reading the Press, I feel so bad, this is a terrible tragedy and they all seemed like wonderful boys.”