Preaching to a 100-plus crowd at Camden’s First Nazarene Baptist Church on Sunday morning, the Rev. Dyheim Watson invited all Camden City School District students and faculty in attendance to rise and stand before him. About two dozen people walked toward the pulpit, locking hands in solidarity as the choir, and soon after, the entire church, broke into prayerful song.
Watson had dedicated his 10:30 a.m. service to help heal and celebrate a community recently traumatized. Less than 48 hours earlier, gunfire at the Pleasantville High School Athletic Complex about 50 miles away caused a playoff football game between Camden and Pleasantville High Schools to end abruptly.
It was shortly before 8:30 p.m. Friday, with the Camden Panthers leading the Pleasantville Greyhounds 6-0 in the third quarter, when shots erupted in the bleachers. Players and spectators ran for cover, jumping over chain-link fences and fleeing the stadium in panic. Police and medics ran in, tending to three injured spectators, including a 10-year-old boy shot in the neck.
“It’s so important to stand together immediately after these incidents happen to show our kids that this kind of violence is not OK, and that we are there for them,” Camden community organizer Ronsha Dickerson said following Sunday’s service. “The students in our community are starting to become numb, desensitized to events that shouldn’t be normal.”
Six men have been arrested, one on charges of attempted murder, in connection with the shooting. Three people were wounded, including 10- and 15-year-old boys, both innocent bystanders, and a 27-year-old man who police say was the target of the shooting and was among those arrested.
The shooting erupted from an unspecified dispute out of nearby Atlantic City, police said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. By all indications, police emphasized, the shooting had no relation to the two schools.
“A lot of people find solace in the fact that this didn’t have anything to do with us, but at the end of the day, the trauma still affects our children. This is something they’re going to remember for the rest of their lives,” said Camden community activist and 1988 Camden High School alum John Royal outside of the church Sunday. “We’re here to show our kids we’re behind them 100 percent. We have to keep pulling together and putting the children first, because the children are our future.”
Alvin Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, was charged with three counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Four others who were at the game and fled from police in a vehicle after the shootings, authorities said, have been identified as Michael Mack, 27; Tyrell Dorn, 28; Shahid Dixon, 27, all of Atlantic City, and Vance Golden, 26, of Pleasantville. They have been charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and with being certain persons not to possess a weapon.
Ibn Abdullah, the reported target of the shooting, was also charged with unlawful gun possession. The Atlantic City resident is in critical condition at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Atlantic City campus, authorities said.
The 15-year-old victim suffered a graze wound and was treated at the hospital and released.
The 10-year-old, Micah Tennant, also known as Dew, was in critical condition at Cooper University Hospital, authorities said Saturday. No updates on his condition were available Sunday.
Micah’s family has started a GoFundMe page to help with his medical expenses. The campaign had raised more than $8,000 of its $10,000 goal as of 5 p.m. Sunday.
Micah’s mother, Angela Tennant, who could not be reached for comment Sunday, wrote on Facebook that she was feeling grateful despite the shooting and shared a video of the boy flexing his arm muscles from July 2017.
“Just like in this video he gone show ya’ll just how strong he is," she wrote.
The resolution to stay strong was a prevalent sentiment throughout the Camden Panthers community Sunday.
“Something happened that wasn’t any of [the students’] fault,” said Camden School District superintendent Katrina McCombs, standing at the pulpit to close out Sunday’s service at First Nazarene Baptist Church. “There is forgiveness that must occur as we stand forward as a community. But we are victorious and we are conquerors.”
On Wednesday, the Panthers and Greyhounds are scheduled to resume their game at a neutral site, with no fans permitted. The decision to finish the game, which had 17 minutes left, was made by both schools. Camden coach Dwayne Savage, who was in attendance at Nazarene Baptist Church, declined to comment on the shooting.
McCombs noted that the game is just one step in bringing closure.
“Our athletes train and work incredibly hard, and for both school districts, we’re here to show them that there’s a village around them who want to support and help them to excel,” McCombs said.