PLEASANTVILLE — Dozens of people stood outside the city high school Saturday afternoon, praying and hugging in an attempt to heal after gunfire erupted at a football game Friday night, sending the packed stadium into chaos.
“Whenever these types of things arise, we have to arise, because of the trauma in the community,” said city resident Lonniyell, who goes by the last name “The Community.” “This is not Pleasantville. Pleasantville doesn’t do this.”
Six men were arrested in what officials called a targeted attack that left three people — including a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old — wounded.
While officials said Saturday they do not know what led to the shooting or the motive behind it, both the alleged shooter and one of the victims — the alleged target — have been charged.
Most of the suspects are from Atlantic City.
“Put simply, this was not a Pleasantville problem that happened in Pleasantville,” police Chief Sean Riggin said. “This was a problem that came to us, and while we’ll handle it and we’re well-prepared to resolve the issue and to deal with the ramifications of it, this isn’t something that started here, but it is something that we’re going to finish.”
Authorities said Alvin Wyatt shot Ibn Abdullah at 8:29 p.m. on the home side of the bleachers during the third quarter of the Pleasantville-Camden Central Jersey Group II high school football playoff game, a game attended by more than 1,000 people. The shots caused players and spectators to run for safety while both on-duty and retired law enforcement and fire officials ran forward to help.
A state grand jury voted Friday not to file criminal charges in the death of a Millville man who was shot by a Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office detective last year in Vineland, the state Attorney General’s Office said.
“We were all running and looking back at the same time to make sure our families were OK,” said Greyhounds running back/linebacker Ernest Howard. “But once we got to the fence, we couldn’t really jump over because we still had our pads on. So we all just broke through the fence to get to the gym.”
During the shooting, a 15-year-old suffered a graze wound and a 10-year-old was shot in the neck, police said. The teen was treated at a hospital and released, but the child is still in critical condition at Cooper University Hospital under care of doctors from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
The game —which Camden had been leading 6-0 — will resume Wednesday at “a neutral site that will be closed to the public,” according to a statement from Larry White, executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.
“The decision to complete the approximately 17 minutes remaining in this game was made by both schools,” White said. “It was based not on any desire for an athletic championship, but to provide closure and send a powerful message that acts of violence and those who perpetrate them will not win.”
School administrators met after the news conference to review security protocols for future games.
Counseling will be available for students and staff when school resumes Monday, Pleasantville interim Superintendent Dennis Anderson said in a statement.
Lonniyell, who organized Saturday’s vigil at the high school, said she and others in the community are working to help the students heal after the shooting, and to “live beyond their pain and to arise into their purpose.”
She said she’s organizing a march starting noon Saturday down New Road from Woodland Avenue to the football field.
Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, who was arrested near the field shortly after the shooting, was charged with three counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
Abdullah, 27, of Atlantic City, who authorities said had a gun at the game, was charged with first-degree unlawful possession of a handgun and certain persons not permitted to possess a handgun. He is in critical condition after undergoing surgery at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, City Campus.
MAYS LANDING — A Pleasantville High School teacher accused of having a sexual relationship with a student pleaded not guilty Thursday.
Abdullah has a prior conviction for first-degree robbery.
After the shooting, four other suspects fled, driving toward Atlantic City, police said. They were followed by Absecon police, who saw one of the passengers throw a gun out of the car. The car finally stopped at Ohio and Gramercy avenues in the city, where officers from Absecon and Atlantic City arrested them.
Michael Mack, 27, Tyrell Dorn, 28, and Shahid Dixon, 27, all of Atlantic City, and Vance Golden, 26, of Pleasantville, were charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and certain persons not to possess a weapon. Dixon also was charged with eluding, authorities said.
In a statement, Gov. Phil Murphy said, “High school playoff football should be a cause for community celebration, not the backdrop for panic and terror.”
“Last night was a stark reminder that no community is immune from gun violence, and that we must not ever give up in our efforts to prevent such senseless acts,” Murphy said.
Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner said the trauma for the children, students and players at the game “will be untold” and that the violence will be an “ever-present memory going into their adulthood.”
“I cannot stress enough how this community is impacted by gun violence on so many levels,” Tyner said. “Last night detracted from the fact that these two communities, Pleasantville High School and Camden High School, played an incredible football game out on the field. Parents, family members, friends, supporters were all here to engage in something that many other communities kind of take for granted.”
The Prosecutor’s Office; Absecon, Atlantic City and Stockton University police; federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; and Atlantic County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the investigation, authorities said.
Staff Writer David Weinberg contributed to this report.
Republicans believe they have a good shot at unseating U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-2nd, next year, after defeating Democratic state Senate and Assembly incumbents in the 1st Legislative District and almost defeating incumbents in the 2nd District.
“I think results in South Jersey were terrific from a Republican perspective,” said David Richter, who moved this year to Avalon from Princeton, one of three Republicans who have announced their candidacies to challenge Van Drew. “Certainly Mike Testa and his team winning in LD1 ... is a very good sign for what’s coming up in 2020.”
But Van Drew said next year’s election, with the U.S. president at the top of the ticket, will be a much different animal than the low-turnout Nov. 5 election, when state offices were at the top of the ticket. Many more independents will vote next year, he predicted. And they have tended to support the moderate Democrat in the past.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the Republican candidates for Assembly won more votes in Cape May and Atlantic counties, but the Democratic candidates for Assembly got more votes in Cumberland County.
This year’s election favored the Republicans in the 1st District, Van Drew said, since many independents stayed home. That left mainly the two parties’ bases voting. Registered Republicans outnumber registered Democrats in the district, Van Drew said.
“As much as it’s of course disappointing, it was not completely surprising,” Van Drew said of the loss by state Sen. Bob Andrzejczak and Assemblymen Bruce Land and Matt Milam, all D-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic, who ran as Team Van Drew.
“Our closest elections have always been during those years” when the Assembly was at the top of the ticket, Van Drew said.
The winners were Vineland attorney Mike Testa, who will fill Van Drew’s state Senate term given up when he became a congressman; Ocean City councilman Antwan McClellan, the first African American to represent the district; and Lower Township Mayor Erik Simonsen.
The Cook Political Report House Analysis puts Van Drew and Rep. Andy Kim, D-3rd, in the Democratic Toss Up column. That means their districts are held by Democrats, but either party has about an equal chance of winning.
Both are freshman Democrats elected in 2018 to replace Republicans, and history has shown incumbents are most vulnerable to losing the first time they run for re-election.
The odds are reflected in how the state races went this year.
New Jersey’s 2nd Congressional District, in which Van Drew and his opponents will compete, includes all or most of the state’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 8th and 9th legislative districts. In the Nov. 5 election, half went Republican for Assembly seats (1st, 8th and 9th) and half went Democratic (2nd, 3rd and 5th).
Ocean City Councilman Antwan McClellan will be the first African American to represent the state’s 1st Legislative District after a Republican sweep Tuesday.
In Kim’s 3rd Congressional District, results were similar. But overall the Republicans have more of an edge in the 3rd District, analysts say.
While they didn’t win in the 2nd Legislative District, which covers much of Atlantic County, Republicans exceeded expectations there, Richter said. The team of former longtime Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther and Atlantic County Freeholder John Risley won at the ballot box, but lost after mail-in ballots were counted.
“Atlantic County is certainly more purple than the rest of South Jersey,” Richter said. Democrats outnumber Republicans there 53,185 to 37,330.
Van Drew does, however, worry the impeachment process against President Donald J. Trump could hurt him next year if it continues in Congress.
He was one of only two Democrats to vote against rules to proceed with impeachment, angering some of the Democratic base. He has said there should not be an impeachment so close to an election, when the people can decide. He has also said nothing he has seen so far about allegations against Trump rises to the level of impeachable offenses.
The 1st legislative district lived up to its reputation as a hard-fought battleground district Tuesday, with Republicans gaining two new Assembly seats and a Senate seat in a tight race.
“The more that it goes on, the more vocal and the more enthusiastic and angered Republicans are going to be,” Van Drew said. “The bottom line is this could really energize their base and push them into working even harder. There might be a backlash.”
He predicted the House will vote to impeach and Trump will be exonerated in the Senate.
“We will have the same president, the same candidate, but the electorate will be even angrier,” Van Drew said. “That’s not what drove me to (vote against the impeachment process), but besides everything else, people may not get the result they think they are going to get.”
The 1st Legislative District, where there is a tight Assembly race and the state's only state Senate race, now has New Jersey's most expensive contest in next Tuesday's election.
A confluence of state and national issues worked against Democrats in the 1st Legislative District, said John Froonjian, interim executive director of the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University.
The Democrats’ vote on proceeding with the impeachment process came right before the Nov. 5 election, as did Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy’s push to keep Cape May County from continuing its 287(g) agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Both actions were unpopular among 1st District Republicans, and energized them to vote.
Even though Van Drew, who entered Congress Jan. 1, voted no on impeachment, “he’s still in the middle of a political maelstrom that was riling up the Republican base,” Froonjian said.
It’s difficult to tell whether Van Drew’s no vote may have caused some Democrats to stay home Nov. 5, Froonjian said.
“But it clearly demonstrates the incumbents did not get their people out,” he said. “When you have a really low voter turnout, anything can affect things easily.”
Richter said Van Drew has a tough road ahead, with the Democratic base on one side pushing for impeachment and the overall conservative nature of South Jersey.
“Now he’s got the liberal Democratic base furious with him, and they are going to do one of two things: Either put up a primary opponent, which is likely at this point. He could very well lose. Or they could stay home next November,” Richter said. “Politics in general has been all about Trump.”
Could eating an oyster be a way to save the planet?
Maybe not on a large scale, but it is one way people can take a bite out of New Jersey’s sustainability issues.
Oyster farming in New Jersey was once a booming industry bringing in millions of bushels a year beginning in the 1800s. But in the 1950s, the oyster industry took a major hit after a virus wiped out a large portion of the oysters in the Delaware Bay.
Fortunately, things are looking up for oysters.
At the Rutgers University Haskins Shellfish Research laboratory in Bivalve and Middle Township, researchers are working with oyster farmers to rebuild the oyster beds and find new ways to cultivate strains of oysters that will flourish and help rejuvenate the waters of the Delaware Bay.
“What we’re working with today is a much smaller natural population, but we’re also working with oyster farmers that are doing oyster farming in a different way,” said Daphne Munroe, an associate professor in shellfish ecology for Rutgers at the Haskins lab in Middle Township. “It’s bringing back the oysters in a new way to the Delaware Bay.”
Oyster farming may conjure up thoughts of producing Frankenstein strains of oysters in test tubes, but it’s much simpler than that. Tiny oysters are bred in a controlled setting, much like fish hatcheries, and grown to a size that can be released onto the beds of the bay to grow large enough to be harvested and eventually served on a bed of ice with cocktail sauce.
At low tide, oyster technicians scurry out on the muddy flats of the bay with nets containing thousands of tiny oysters strategically placed in rows to grow until they are moved to larger nets.
The different strains of oysters are monitored to keep track of which of the bivalves is more resistant to the environment.
One of the rewards for the oyster farmer is seeing cleaner water in the bay as the result of the natural filtering that oysters perform. And with that cleaner water comes new life in the form of aquatic species and insects that were killed by pollution in the past.
“Our oyster farmers are very interested in a healthy ecosystem,” said Monroe. “Their business model relies on it.”
Of all the food production systems we know today, she said, shellfish aquaculture is one of the most sustainable and “green.” They help buffer shorelines, filter water and provide other environmental benefits without putting any chemicals or food into the water.
“As far as the carbon footprint of this food production system, it is number one, the least impactful that we have today,” Monroe said.
Oyster farmer Joe Moro, of North Cape May in Lower Township, who grows oysters by the brand name “Naked Salts,” believes the oysters harvested from the Delaware Bay are some of the best in the market.
“If we keep on going at the pace we are going,” Moro said, “we will probably, in about four or five years, get the market back that it was in the ‘30s or ‘40s before the disease.”
“When people eat oysters at a restaurant, they are making a choice for sustainability,” said Monroe. “They’re choosing a product that is grown locally, that relies on clean water, and that while it was in the water helps improve the quality of the coastal ecosystem. And they’re good for you.”
This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project.