PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. -- Six men have been arrested, one on charges of attempted murder, in connection with a shooting that left three people — including a 10-year-old boy — wounded Friday night at a playoff football game between Camden and Pleasantville High Schools.
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The shooting at the Pleasantville High School Athletic Complex during the third quarter of the game was the result of an unspecified dispute out of nearby Atlantic City, police said at a news conference Saturday afternoon. By all indications, police emphasized, the shooting had nothing to do with the two schools.
One of the gunshot victims, a 27-year-old man, was the target, while 10- and 15-year-old boys also hit were innocent bystanders, police said.
“This was not a Pleasantville problem," said Pleasantville Police Chief Sean Riggin. "This is a problem that came to us.”
Alvin Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, was tackled in the end zone while trying to flee the stadium, which held the largest crowd at a Pleasantville football game in at least 20 years, Riggin said. Wyatt 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. One of those men — police have not said who — threw a gun out of that vehicle and onto the roadway as it neared Atlantic City, authorities said. The gun was recovered by police, and the four have been charged with unlawful possession of a weapon and with being certain persons not to possess a weapon.
Also charged with unlawful gun possession was Ibn Abdullah, a 27-year-old Atlantic City resident whom police have identified as the target in the shooting. He is in critical condition at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, Atlantic City campus, authorities said.
The 10-year-old victim, said to be a fifth grader at Uptown School Complex in Atlantic City and who witnesses have said was shot in the neck, is in critical condition at Cooper University Hospital, authorities said. They originally had said he was a patient at CHOP. The 15-year-old was treated for a graze wound.
“It appears they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time," said Pleasantville Police Capt. Matthew Hartman, who said more than 1,000 spectators attended the game.
Saturday morning, discarded rubber gloves set under blood-soaked bleachers served as a grim reminder of the previous night’s violence.
“The vicarious trauma that will be placed upon the students that were at that game will be untold. That should be criminal enough," said Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner. "These kids have been robbed of their youth. That will be an ever-present memory going into their adulthood.
“But this community is certainly resilient," he added. "It will bounce back.”
The Camden Panthers were leading the Pleasantville Greyhounds 6-0 when gunfire erupted in the bleachers shortly before 8:30 p.m.
In a video posted on Twitter by Jersey Sports Zone, an outlet that covers high school sports, the players can be seen waiting for the punt to roll to a stop when six shots are heard. The camera points to the ground for a few seconds and then back up to show people in the stands scattering in a panic. None of the players or referees was hurt.
Camden coach Dwayne Savage said Saturday that he was still processing the premature and abrupt ending to his team’s playoff game.
He replayed the sights and sounds of the scene: hearing the gunshots, spotting smoke, and watching his carefully crafted game plan erased in chaos.
“We tried to get the kids down on the ground. All of them were running in all different directions,” he said. "All the coaches and parents went to different areas to try to round them up, get them in the locker room and then get out of there.
“I’m just glad we were able to get all the players back with their moms and dads,” he added. “That’s how I’m looking at it.”
The game is scheduled to resume with 17 minutes to play on Wednesday at a neutral site, and with no fans permitted. Savage said he hopes the Panthers can “get the emotion back.”
“It’s tough to go through what they went through and then try to come back and play,” he added. “I felt like we were playing pretty well. We had the momentum. We had partially blocked the punt that happened right before the shooting started.”
In a statement, Larry White, the executive director of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association, said the decision to finish the game on Wednesday was made by both schools. “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” White said. “The outcome of this game will be decided where it should be – on the playing field.”
Camden athletic director Mark Phillips wrote a short note of appreciation on his personal Facebook page.
“Just want to say how proud I am of our coaches, security staff, parents," he said. “I will never forget how selfless everyone was for our kids.”
Gov. Phil Murphy issued a statement Saturday saying that a high school playoff football game “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," he said.
South Jersey Congressman Jeff Van Drew called not only for healing but for action on gun violence: “Right now, we just come together as a community, but we must act on the commonsense, bipartisan solutions to this recurring issue.”
In January, Pleasantville Councilman Augustus Harmon, a Virginia native, celebrates 50 years serving the town in one elected capacity or another, a community he adopted more than 60 years ago. He routinely passed through it on trips to Atlantic City, appreciating its proximity to the beckoning resorts and admiring its welcoming name. And through the years he fought against its growing violent crime rates.
“But I’ve never seen nothing like that,” he said Saturday. “I’m proud of its accomplishments and its growth, but something like this doesn’t help.”
Harmon, whose son was sitting in the bleachers during Friday night’s game, reflected on the shooting happening a day after a 16-year-old Santa Clarita, Calif., high school student shot five of his classmates, killing two before turning the gun on himself. The teenager died of his injuries on Friday.
“This kind of thing is just spreading across our great country,” Harmon said. “It is terrible the image that America is projecting right now.”