SEA ISLE CITY — The Corso family lost everything in the span of a few hours — a grandmother, a dog, a house.
“We are devastated,” said Caitlin Corso, of Ocean View.
Thursday morning, authorities received multiple 911 calls reporting flames and heavy smoke coming from a house on 54th Street between Landis and Pleasure avenues.
The fire claimed the life of Marie Zielinski, 89, as well as the family’s 2-year-old Labrador/pit bull mix, Manu.
Two other residents, Elizabeth Coleman, 56, and Roy Lombardo, 60, were injured during the fire and transported to Cape Regional Medical Center.
Three side-by-side duplexes with a total of six units were damaged by the fire and smoke. Fire crews worked quickly to protect neighboring homes on the block.
Friday morning, the dulled ring of one of the duplex’s smoke alarms hung constant in the cold morning air, keeping tempo as officials paced around the collapsed home and dug through the blackened debris.
One fire investigator with a black smudge across his nose and cheeks paused for a moment to clean his boots, stomping his feet into a small puddle at Landis Avenue and 54th Street.
Corso said eight family members, including her father, whom she did not identify, lived in the East 54th Street home.
Her father and four other family members, including Coleman and Lombardo, lived in the west unit of the duplex, Corso said. Zielinski and two other family members lived in the east unit.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. Atlantic City Electric and South Jersey Gas representatives said there is no indication the fire was related to an electrical or natural gas explosion.
Jesus Suarez, 30, of Egg Harbor Township, was working on a house for Pittaluga Electric on 54th Street when he first saw flames and smoke and a woman running.
He then saw a man on the porch of the home that was on fire and knew he needed to help.
“So I ran to go get the guy off the first-floor balcony,” he said.
Suarez climbed up the post to reach the porch to rescue the man as the rest of his crew came with an extension ladder to help a woman trapped on the second floor.
Suarez then climbed to the second floor to help the woman who was trying to get her dog and put the fire out with a pitcher of water.
“I literally had to grab her and put her on the ladder to bring her down because she didn’t want to leave,” he said.
Suarez then had to save himself from the flames and black smoke, so he jumped from the top of the second floor.
Friday morning, Suarez returned to the scene and stood quietly behind the yellow tape. Wearing a thick red flannel, he had returned to his job running electricity in a house down the street. He wore brown work pants that hid a large bruise on his upper leg, he said, an injury he sustained by hitting the piling on his jump to safety.
One EMS personnel thanked him for his work, but Suarez hadn’t come for recognition. He’d taken his lunch break to see if he could get more information on the people he’d helped.
The Rev. Joseph Perreault of St. Joseph Catholic Church said parishioners were organizing a fundraising campaign to help the victims of the fire.
Chickee Flora, regent for the parish’s local chapter of the Catholic Daughters of the Americas, said they are collecting gift cards to grocery stores, Walmart and pharmacies for the family.
“Everyone is anxious to help in any way,” she said.
According to Flora, Zielinski was a devoted member of the Catholic Daughters and was last seen at a group retreat Tuesday.
“She was a lovely woman,” Flora said.
The gift card donations are being collected at the St. Joseph Parish Center at 126 44th St.
Corso and Sea Isle City Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1963 are accepting clothing donations for the family.
Staff Writers Lauren Carroll and Colt Shaw contributed to this report.
EAST RUTHERFORD — Michael Fiedor switched from shorts and flip-flops to a ski cap and mittens Friday.
And he was happy to do it.
Upon learning Holy Spirit High School’s football team was playing rival St. Joseph for the state Non-Public II championship, he flew from his winter home in Holiday, Florida, to Atlantic City International Airport, then boarded a fan bus for the two-hour ride to MetLife Stadium.
“My grandsons Kurt and Kolin Driscoll play for Holy Spirit, and I’ve never missed a game,” Fiedor said. “There was no way I was going to miss this, especially since they were playing at MetLife Stadium.”
Fiedor, a retired chief of the Scullville Volunteer Fire Company in Egg Harbor Township, made the two-hour trek from Holy Spirit in Absecon with several hundred Spartans fans. They filled three Greyhound buses and a large van to watch the Spartans at the home of the NFL’s New York Giants and Jets.
Players, coaches and cheerleaders also reveled in the experience. St. Joseph won the Non-Public II state championship 41-22.
“We were totally in awe when we walked onto the field,” Holy Spirit cheerleader Makayla Brennan said. “It was overwhelming. I can’t even imagine what this must be like when the stadium is filled.”
About 3,000 fans sat behind the respective benches to cheer for their teams.
Holy Spirit’s fans were joined by an equally large and rowdy contingent from St. Joseph, which was just as enthusiastic and loud, despite the chilly, damp conditions.
Wildcats sophomore quarterback/defensive back Jayden Shertel threw two long touchdown passes to senior running back Jada Byers and snared an interception, producing screams from Shertel’s mother, Danielle Craig, and about a dozen other family members and friends.
They made the trip together from Hammonton in a white van that had “#7 QB” and “LET’S GO ST. JOE!” written on the side and back windows, along with Christmas tinsel and a red bow. The back was packed with food, including a tray of brownies.
“We’re super excited to watch him play here,” Craig said. “Playing in a NFL stadium is an opportunity of a lifetime.”
Being at MetLife Stadium was an extra special experience for Shertel’s grandfathers, Tom Dowling and Bob Groeber.
While most of the family are Philadelphia Eagles fans, Dowling and Groeber root for the Giants.
“I used to come to games at the old Giants Stadium all the time,” Dowling said. “To come here and see Jayden on the field is a special feeling.”
Shertel gave his family and friends plenty to cheer about.
The sophomore from Hammonton was one of the stars of the game, connecting with Byers for touchdown passes of 55 and 60 yards, respectively, then snaring an interception.
“To win the state championship and to do it in a NFL stadium is amazing,” he said. “This is something that I’ll never forget.”
VENTNOR — At the end of a long table, with 10 attendees from surrounding towns looking on, Rabbi Avrohom Rapoport on Friday extolled the importance of particularity in the practice of lighting a menorah.
He explained differing schools of thought on best practices: one that holds that all eight candles should be lit on the first night, followed by seven on the next night, and so on, versus another that says to work the opposite way, from one candle on the first night to two on the second night, and so on.
The eight days of Hanukkah will start Sunday evening and end at sundown Dec. 10.
Rapoport, 37, of Ventnor, struck a match to light the Shamash, or lead candle, and used it to light the eight smaller candles.
There are two blessings recited every night, he said, and a third, Baruch Atah Adonai, recited only on the first night, “to thank God for bringing us to this moment.”
He led the group in recitation.
Rapoport leads a congregation at the Chai Center on Atlantic Avenue, a part of Chabad at the Shore. The service is traditional Orthodox, he says, but “the people who come primarily are not.”
Longtime congregant and Linwood resident Evelyn Heward, 81, said she finds remembering the meaning of traditional practices, like lighting the menorah, to be critical during times of hardship or darkness.
“We don’t want people to lose sight,” Heward said.
The instruction preceded the final lesson in a series called Wrestling With Faith, a six-week program taught in many Jewish centers around the world, Rapoport said. Friday’s lesson centered on the struggle between faith and science.
Before lighting the menorah, he spoke at length about the origins of the holiday, about King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and his persecution of the Jewish people, and how he forbade observing the Jewish religion.
The Maccabees, freedom fighters, staged a revolt.
“They were outnumbered against the mighty Syrian-Greek army against a handful of, really, students,” Rapoport said. “And against all odds, they are victorious.”
They returned to the Holy Temple in Jerusalem to find it ransacked, defiled and filled with examples of idolatry. They wanted to light the menorah but found the Greeks had broken the seal on their kosher oil and defiled it.
“And miraculously, they found this one jug of oil and decided to light it anyway,” Rapoport said. “The story of Hanukkah, I believe, is really a story for all people. A message of freedom; a message of acceptance. And the menorah is a symbol of light.”
Jewish people light the menorah during the time when the sun sets earliest in the winter, Rapoport said.
“So the imagery and the message of the Hanukkah menorah is really the power of light over darkness,” he said. “And I think the lesson is the power of goodness over evil, freedom over oppression. And I think it’s extra appropriate and apropos for the world we’re living in today, where there is a lot of darkness, especially after (the synagogue shooting in) Pittsburgh,” he said.
“There’s really too much bad stuff going around,” she said. “Anything that we can do to help or lighten the situation, make peace among people, happiness.”
Rapoport expects that the tragic massacre in Pittsburgh in October, when a man entered a synagogue in the Squirrel Hill section of the city and shot 11 people dead, will strengthen the Jewish community.
“I think we’re going to see more people observing the Hanukkah lights and coming together as families and communities,” Rapoport said, “because in the face of such tragedy and such evil, the response in the Jewish tradition is come together, bring people together. Unity. Community. Love.”
BRIDGETON — A Camden man has been linked to the murder of a Millville youth football coach through calls his phone received before and after the shooting.
Clifton D. Bailey, 27, became the fifth person charged in the murder of youth football coach Joseph “JoJo” Jones after investigators found records of calls between his and Eugene Cosby’s cellphones before and after the shooting and an ensuing car chase.
Cosby, 42, of Malaga, was arrested last month along with Will El-Bey, 22, of Vineland, both of whom were charged with homicide and conspiracy to commit homicide in Jones’ murder.
BRIDGETON — A fifth person has been arrested and charged in connection with the August murder of Millville Midget Football League coach Joseph “JoJo” Jones, according to a statement from Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae.
Jones, 37, was shot at 8:15 p.m. Aug. 9 in the parking lot of Lakeside Middle School in Millville as athletes, coaches and parents were leaving after a Midget League practice. Jones’ 7-year-old son, a player on the team, was at the practice where his father was killed.
Bailey was slated to appear for a detention hearing Friday morning in Cumberland County Superior Court. However, he was never transferred from Salem County jail, where he is currently housed.
Bailey’s detention hearing was rescheduled to 9 a.m. Monday before Judge Michael Silvanio.
After the shooting, a detective from the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office followed one of the suspected vehicles, a maroon Pontiac Grand Prix, on Route 55 north, according to the affidavit of probable cause.
The occupants of the vehicle fired several shots at the detective and eluded him on Garden Road in Vineland.
BRIDGETON — The last of four people charged in the death of Millville youth football coach Joseph “JoJo” Jones will be held in jail pending trial, a judge ruled Thursday.
The investigation into the murder and chase, including a warrant for Cosby’s cellphone, revealed phone calls were made from Cosby’s phone to Bailey’s before Jones was shot and after the car chase, according to the document, and that Bailey was in Cumberland County at the time of the murder.
The investigation also revealed that Cosby and El-Bey obtained the license plate that was placed on the Pontiac, according to the document.
Investigators learned that Bailey’s paramour had a 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix, which was sold soon after the homicide, according to the affidavit.
In addition, a warrant for Bailey’s Facebook page showed he “sent an image on Aug. 4, 2018, of the Pa. registration containing the information of a 2002 Grand Prix registered to his paramour.”
Bailey’s attorney, Louis Barbone, and Assistant Prosecutor Charles Wettstein, who represents the state in the case, were present Friday morning for the hearing until they were notified Bailey had not been transferred.
“We’re opposing detention and giving additional information to the state,” Barbone said outside the courtroom.
While Barbone did not say what that information was, he said he will “disclose it on Monday” in court.
Two others charged in the murder, Genea Hughes-Lee, 34, of Malaga, and Tyrell Hart, 22, of Vineland, were charged with conspiracy to hinder apprehension, hindering apprehension, obstruction and two counts of false reports to law enforcement.
Cosby and El-Bey are being held until trial. Hughes-Lee and Hart have been released pending trial. Cosby, El-Bey, Hughes-Lee and Hart are all scheduled to appear in court at 10 a.m. Thursday before Judge Cristen P. D’Arrigo.