PLEASANTVILLE, N.J. — Football player Jonathan Valentine didn’t run off the field or hit the ground Friday night like most everyone else at the playoff game between Camden and Pleasantville High Schools — even after he’d realized that the loud pops in the bleachers were gunshots, not fireworks, as he’d first suspected.
In video of the incident, you can see the 16-year-old Pleasantville High junior, jersey No. 58, standing by himself, scanning the largest crowd in decades for his parents. It was the first game of the season that his mom had been able to attend.
“I was trying to find my mom and dad,” he said Saturday. “I was trying to make sure they were OK.”
Valentine plays in the trenches for the Greyhounds, on both sides of the ball. On offense, he’s a guard. On defense, he’s a tackle.
But at 8:30 p.m. Friday, he was just a teenager hoping that his parents hadn’t been shot.
“Some people think it’s sickening. Some are sad,” Valentine said. “Mostly everybody is depressed about it.”
Valentine was among the scores of students, parents, and community leaders who attended an impromptu vigil Saturday afternoon outside the high school to pray and hug and help one another through another bloody weekend in a trigger-happy America.
Six men were arrested Saturday in connection with the shooting that left one of them and two children wounded at the game.
Lonniyell, a local activist who does not use a last name, encouraged students to be open about how the shooting has affected them, not to let the trauma fester.
“It doesn’t have to be the end. It can be the beginning of a new start,” she said at the vigil, as wind gusts whipped around the high school. “Trauma can cripple you, or it can make you live.”
Lonniyell is planning a march for next Saturday at noon, starting at Woodland Avenue and running along New Road to the high school.
“With trauma,” she said, “people need to be around people.”
The vigil also drew the support of Crisis Response Canines, a nonprofit that uses therapy dogs to help victims and first responders after violent incidents. The group was on the scene after the Pulse nightclub mass shooting in Orlando, Fla., in 2016, after the Las Vegas mass shooting in 2017, and after the Parkland, Fla., high school mass shooting in 2018.
On Saturday, they arrived at Pleasantville High with Denny the German shepherd, Alma the Great Dane, Lambeau the border collie, and Tess the black Lab-Doberman mix.
“Therapy dogs give you that respite, to take your mind away from the stress of the event,” said Thomas Cimino, of Crisis Response Canines. “They have an uncanny ability to pick people out of the crowd that are stressing. We don’t do much. They just do their thing.”
In Camden, there will be an 11 a.m. Sunday gathering at First Nazarene Baptist Church to support members of the Camden High Panthers and their families. The football game between Pleasantville and Camden will be completed Wednesday, with no crowd in attendance.
As for Jonathan Valentine, the Pleasantville High junior, he eventually found his parents after the shooting and they rode home together. He said he won’t let the incident derail the team’s accomplishments this season.
“I just want to show Pleasantville something good. They haven’t had something good in a long time,” Valentine said. “We won the division championship, but we want a ring.”
Jenn Ladd contributed to this report.