BRIDGETON — Upon walking into the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office on Vine Street, a poster with a photo of 9-year-old Jennifer Trejo sits up against the glass in the lobby.
The poster advertises a $10,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and conviction in her killing — an incident that took place about a month ago when stray gunfire went through the child’s bedroom walls.
Jennifer’s death was the first of a few high-profile incidents of violence in the county this summer. Youth football coach Joseph “JoJo” Jones, 37, was shot and killed in the parking lot of Lakeside Middle School in Millville on Aug. 9, and two days later, Erica S. McNair, 44, was found with a gunshot wound to the head on the front porch of her Bridgeton home.
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One of these cases came closer to resolution Friday, when three men were arrested in Jennifer’s death. Michael L. Elliott, 25, of Bridgeton; Leroy Frazier III, 20, of Bridgeton; and Charles Gamble, 18, of Salem, were each charged with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, attempted murder and weapons offenses.
In an interview prior to the arrests this past week, Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae said investigators are working continuously to solve these cases — and make sure they stay in the public’s mind.
“We will get through this,” Webb-McRae said. “What I want the community to know is that we can’t do it alone. … This is a village, and we all have a part to play in its success.”
Webb-McRae grew up in Vineland and has been a lifelong Cumberland County resident. She was among the dozens who came together the night after Jones was shot to mourn the member of the Millville Midget Football League. She later wrote an opinion piece that ran in The Press of Atlantic City, stating she was “deeply moved and shocked” by the homicides, and that the community needed to come together to overcome the gun violence.
Webb-McRae said she wants to acknowledge the pain people are feeling, but remind the community it takes stepping up and coming together to move forward from traumatic events.
MILLVIILLE — Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae on Saturday released a photo o…
“I saw that we had young kids who had experienced something traumatic, and that touched me,” she said. “I had read comments, I read the newspaper and I read the comments on social media and I heard people talking poorly or negatively about Cumberland County. … It just compelled me to speak out about not to lose hope and that our community is a beautiful community to live in.”
While Webb-McRae said there have been developments and updates in the ongoing cases, they are ongoing investigations and little information can be divulged to the public at this time.
She noted that violence in the county often does not start with the criminal justice system and instead has to do with a lack of resources, poverty, mental health and the drug epidemic in the community.
The county in the southwestern tip of the state occupies 500 square miles and, according to the most recent census data, about 18.4 percent of its approximately 152,500 residents live in poverty.
“A lot of our issues deal with poverty,” she said. “But I’m not going to let that deter me from doing the small part I can do to make our community better.”
She said it’s part of her job to advocate for preventive measures to help combat violence, which include promoting programs such as the Cumberland County Positive Youth Coalition, which works with 85 organizations to reduce juvenile delinquency.
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The county also received a nearly $740,000 grant from the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency’s Safe and Thriving Communities program last year to combat gang and gun violence and its effects on youth in Vineland, Millville and Bridgeton.
After the McNair killing, Webb-McRae said in a statement that investigators have had difficulty getting cooperation from witnesses.
She said she understands the barriers to having witnesses speak out and tell law enforcement what they have seen. Some people are scared or are reluctant to come forward with information — but people should feel comfortable coming forward to help solve a crime and hold people accountable.
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly said the recent spate of violence has been concerning across the county and that community members need to come up with a plan against violence.
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Kelly, also the president and CEO of the nonprofit Gateway Community Action Partnership, said community leaders will meet for a summit starting next week with stakeholders from across the county to discuss these issues.
“The sense of urgency is present,” he said. “There’s no one thing that we can turn on or turn off the violence. It comes from an idea that we all will bring to the table so that we can support each other.”