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Mother waits as Ventnor woman recovers from shooting in Puerto Rico

While Angelis Molina's father waits in a Puerto Rican hospital for her to recover from a critical gunshot wound, her mother, Michelle Molina, sends voicemails from her home in Mays Landing so he can play them for her.

Angelis Molina, a Ventnor resident who was working as a waitress in Atlantic City, had gone to San Juan, Puerto Rico, for the first time to celebrate her 20th birthday Jan. 21 with a friend. After deciding to extend her stay, she was shot in the face Jan. 31.

She is recovering from her most recent surgery, which removed one of her eyes, her mother said.

On Friday evening, Michelle Molina said she got word that her daughter's swelling was going down.

"What a blessing," she said.

The bullet, she said, had entered her daughter’s mouth and exited her cheek.

“It’s a tough situation as a mother because I warned her. I really did,” Michelle said. “I just did not feel good about it.”

Despite her apprehensions about Angelis’ travels, Michelle said her daughter was having a great time on her trip.

“She got down there and was having so much fun. She met these people and felt like, ‘Well, now I’m having the time of my life, I just want to stay a little bit more, even if it’s just for a few months,” Michelle said.

Her mother said Angelis had attended a festival, met new people and was even approached for restaurant and modeling jobs. But Michelle is now concerned about the kind of people her daughter encountered.

“She ended up in just not a good group of people in that time, but being young and innocent like she is, she sees the good in people. She doesn’t judge people. She put a little more faith in them than she should,” she said.

One of those new friends, Renán Colón Pujadas, gave a version of events — that the shooting took place in the course of a robbery — to police last Friday that has since been ruled out due to contradictory versions, according to PrimeraHora, which also reported that Pujadas had a history of giving false information to police in cases of theft and robbery.

Molina's mother said she had reservations about Angelis' new acquaintance after being sent photos of him.

"I did not know who this kid was at all, but from what she told me he was a good guy. Not someone at all that would have hurt her," Michelle Molina said. "What he really is as a person is not good either. His whole persona is not good.

One thing her daughter said stuck out to Molina: “He is showing me the time of my life.”

The details surrounding what happened Jan. 31 are under investigation by the Puerto Rico Police Department, the department confirmed Tuesday through an interpreter.

“There’s been so many different accounts from the people that were involved that the police are trying to put their finger on what exactly is the truth,” Michelle said.

Angelis' father, who works as a driver for UPS, flew down Sunday and plans to stay there as long as he can.

While she continues to wait on more information from police and medical professionals, Michelle said she is overwhelmed by community support. A group of girls who went to high school with Angelis created a GoFundMe page to help pay for medical bills Michelle Molina said she hasn’t even had the time to think about. As of Thursday, $1,590 had been raised toward a $5,000 goal.

She said this is characteristic of the kind of effect her daughter has had on others.

“You have no idea just how many people love you,” she tells her daughter in her voicemail messages. “The outpouring is amazing.”

School officials celebrate as $137M Millville High School expansion underway

MILLVILLE — It’s been decades since the freshmen at Millville High School attended the same building as the juniors and seniors, but in a little more than two years, that will change.

“Watching this moment unfold now proves that the wait has been worth it,” Superintendent David Gentile said Thursday during a ceremonial groundbreaking on what will be an 82,000-square-foot addition at the senior high school.

The exterior of the senior high school is faded, and in areas, paint and cement are chipping away from the facade. Trailers set up on the north side of the building — a temporary fix that has lasted years longer than expected — contain 17 classrooms to accommodate the large student population. In recent years, student population in the district has been on the decline, but the crowded halls remained.

The multiphase, $137.5 million project funded through the New Jersey Schools Development Authority will renovate and update the aging and overcrowded building, and bring unity to the high school, Gentile said.

In all, the project will include 230,000 square feet of additions and 55,000 square feet of renovations, according to the SDA.

GALLERY: Millville High School expansion groundbreaking

Millville is one of 31 SDA districts in the state that qualify for project funding. According to SDA CEO Lizette Delgado Polanco, this is the third and most complex capital project the state has taken on in the city. So far, she said, the SDA has invested $55 million in Millville.

“We are here today as your partner, as advocates on behalf of the students,” Delgado Polanco said during Thursday’s event that included students, staff and state, city and school officials. “The expansion of Millville High School will give you a place where you can dream and become men and women of vision and success. And that is my commitment to you.”

Millville Senior High School opened in the 1960s to replace the 100-year-old Memorial High School a mile away. Now, the district’s 1,700 high school students are split between the two buildings. Once the expansion is complete, the senior high school will house up to 2,300 students.

Principal Stephanie DeRose said the renovations will provide a facility that helps promote opportunities in careers and secondary education. This phase of the renovations will include 32 classrooms, a new cafeteria, a life skills room and two self-contained classrooms for students with special needs.

“This is just the beginning,” DeRose said.

When complete, the high school will have a new gymnasium, science labs, auditorium and engineering labs.

The Millville School District has been waiting many years for the upgrade to its high school, long plagued by overcrowding. Gentile said the plan has evolved over several decades from a new building to renovations and expansion.

“We may not be building a brand new high school, instead we’re embracing fiscal responsibility,” he said. “We’re overhauling this campus with as little waste as possible.”

Gentile said having all the students in one high school will create efficiencies and economies of scale. He said the students deserve an updated facility.

Mayor Michael Santiago said he was happy officials in northern New Jersey are recognizing South Jersey. Delgado Polanco said that as a South Jersey native — she grew up in Hammonton and raised kids in Pleasantville — she knows the needs of the region, and the struggles of the students and parents.

“For me, it is important that it doesn’t matter what your ZIP code is, that the state of New Jersey is here to say, ‘We don’t care where you live, we’re going to provide you with an equitable facility, so that you can have a 21st century education,” she said.

Gentile said the district is still considering options for the Memorial High School, including alternative programming and special education.

This is the second time this year the SDA was in Cumberland County for a project ceremony. In September, officials cut the ribbon on a new middle school in Vineland.

Charles J. Olson / for the press  

Millville High School student Madison Peter, foreground, 17, photographs members of the New Jersey Schools Development Authority, local school officials and students as they perform a ceremonial groundbreaking for the high school’s expansion Thursday.

Ex-wife of 'Freddy' Augello sentenced in drug ring tied to Kauffman killing

MAYS LANDING — The ex-wife of the retired Pagans motorcycle gang leader found guilty in the murder of April Kauffman was given a suspended sentence Thursday for her role in James Kauffman’s opioid drug ring.

Beverly Augello, 49, of Summerland Key, Florida, was sentenced to concurrent five-year sentences for her role in the opioid ring run out of Kauffman’s Egg Harbor Township medical practice and a separate charge for possession of cocaine stemming from a traffic stop in April in Upper Township.

Those sentences will only be served if Augello re-offends during the next five years.

“I would just like the opportunity to move forward and live my life in Florida,” Augello told Superior Court Judge Bernard E. DeLury Jr.

Beverly Augello pleaded guilty to third-degree conspiracy to possess drugs in August and testified in the trial of her ex-husband, Ferdinand “Freddy” Augello.

Freddy Augello, 62, an Upper Township signmaker, was found guilty in October in the 2012 murder of April Kauffman, the attempted murder of April’s husband, James Kauffman, and leading the drug ring. He was sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

Prosecutors said April Kauffman, a local businesswoman, veterans advocate and radio personality, had threatened to expose her husband’s illegal activities, including the drug ring, which led him to hire a hitman to kill her.

Two weeks after the charges were announced, James Kauffman, 68, was found hanged in his jail cell in Hudson County.

Also Thursday, sentencing for Glenn “Slasher” Seeler for his role in the drug ring was postponed until Feb. 19.

Seeler, 38, of Sanford, North Carolina, pleaded guilty to second-degree racketeering in July. Second-degree offenses carry a presumption of jail time, but Seeler and his attorney sought to avoid prison Thursday.

His attorney, Timothy Reilly, said Seeler had cooperated with authorities and testified against Augello “because it was the right thing to do.” Seeler also has health issues including diabetes, high blood pressure and arthritis, Reilly told the judge in asking for a suspended sentence.

“I have changed,” Seeler told DeLury. “I’d like to lead a nice, quiet, law-abiding life.”

DeLury said while he was “inclined to” grant the defense’s request to sentence Seeler at a lesser, third-degree level, it would still involve prison time.

He granted Seeler the nearly two-week adjournment so he could make provisions before coming back to be sentenced.

Joe Mulholland, another co-defendant who turned state’s witness in the case, was also scheduled to be sentenced Thursday morning, but the appearance was rescheduled to Friday.

Mulholland, 53, of the Villas section of Lower Township, testified during Augello’s trial that he drove alleged hitman Francis Mulholland to the Kauffmans’ Linwood home to kill April.

Francis Mulholland, who is not related to Joseph, died in October 2013 from a drug overdose in his home in the Villas section of Lower Township, officials said.

AC Rescue Mission ready to fill gap created by Sister Jean's closing

ATLANTIC CITY — The Atlantic City Rescue Mission is confident it will be able to provide for the hungry who have one less option after the closing of Sister Jean’s Kitchen.

Meanwhile, officials with Sister Jean’s are confident the forced shutdown of its operations is only temporary and the food assistance program will be up and running again soon.

State officials said the Rescue Mission, which is about one mile away, or a 20-minute walk, from Sister Jean’s, has agreed to provide daily lunches after the closing of the kitchen.

City officials deemed the 163-year-old Victory First Presbyterian Church at Pennsylvania and Pacific avenues, which housed Sister Jean’s, unsafe and ordered the building to be vacated by Thursday. The kitchen, which provided meals to nearly 300 people a day Monday through Friday, served its last plate Wednesday.

The Rev. Bill Warner, of the Rescue Mission, said about 20 of Sister Jean’s regulars visited his location on Bacharach Boulevard on Wednesday and several more Thursday.

“It will take a week or so for a real transition to take place,” said Warner. “But, as they do, we’re prepared to handle that. We’ve been doing this for 55 years.”

Warner said the Rescue Mission typically serves 150 to 250 meals per day but at times has seen that number increase to nearly 800.

“Whatever overflow they have, we can handle. It’s not a problem at all. Glad to help,” he said Thursday.

The future of Sister Jean’s remains unknown. Officials from the state, city and the kitchen met Wednesday to discuss solutions.

“There are plans to move forward with the discussions with the city administration and (with) the DCA looking over our shoulder,” said the Rev. John Scotland, executive director of the nonprofit that operates Sister Jean’s, adding a promise was made to find a long-term home and to work out a temporary solution. “We have more meetings to do.”

Bill Southrey, a board member for Friends of Sister Jean Webster Inc. and former director of the Rescue Mission, said many of those who used the nonprofit’s services are from the city. Because of that, Southrey believes city officials will find a solution so Sister Jean’s can continue to help those in need.

“I don’t think (Sister Jean’s) is done at all,” he said. “There’s a lot of people with need in the city. And until they fulfill the need and make sure everyone has a meal, she needs to be there. Her legacy needs to stand.”

Volunteers and employees of Sister Jean’s started early Thursday morning, scrubbing stainless steel stoves, sweeping up the beaten wooden floor and loading up a truck with food and supplies to move away from the only home the 28-year-old charity has ever known.

Scotland said the supplies were being moved to the former St. Monica’s Catholic Church on North Pennsylvania Avenue, which the charity purchased in August 2017. Perishable food was sent to other social service providers in Atlantic City, including Turning Point Day Center for the Homeless.

St. Monica’s was to be Sister Jean’s new home, but complications with funding and permits from the city have stalled those plans.

In June 2017, the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority approved up to $1 million for Sister Jean’s as part of its Pacific Avenue Midtown Redevelopment Project, which aimed to move the kitchen — along with the John Brooks Recovery Center now in Pleasantville — outside the city’s Tourism District. The CRDA-approved resolution outlined the scope of project — estimated at $936,121 — and required any plans to comply with all city codes and ordinances.

The nonprofit had intended to use the CRDA funding to improve the St. Monica’s buildings and relocate, but the authority found flaws with the plan.

Sister Jean Webster, a casino chef, started the nonprofit in 1991, but her empathy for those less fortunate began long before that. Webster’s charity was the result of her inviting one man she witnessed rummaging through a trash can back to her home on Indiana Avenue for a warm meal. She quickly extended that invitation to anyone in need.

“She’d be turning over in her grave right now,” said David Bond, a Sister Jean’s employee. Bond said since he began working at Sister Jean’s, he started to view those who came regularly as family.

“I don’t say, ‘See you tomorrow,’” he said. “I ask, ‘You coming home tomorrow?’ This is home.”

Paige Vaccaro, of Linwood, started an online petition earlier this week to request the city allow Sister Jean’s to continue operating at St. Monica’s. Thursday morning, Vaccaro said she had more than 2,000 signatures. Like Bond, Vaccaro, who volunteers at Sister Jean’s, said she views everyone involved as an extended family.

“This is just really unfortunate,” she said Thursday. “It doesn’t seem like (the city) has a plan.”

This story has been updated to reflect Bill Southrey's affiliation with Friends of Sister Jean Webster Inc.