Ernest Howard, a 17-year-old senior with the Pleasantville High School football team, learned one of the team’s supporters died Wednesday through his principal — hours before he was supposed to finish a playoff game that was interrupted by gunfire Friday.
Ten-year-old, Micah Tennant, tenderly nicknamed Dew, was supporting Howard and his team as they faced Camden High School at the Pleasantville High School Athletic Complex when gunfire broke out.
The game had drawn hundreds to Pleasantville because, for the first time in 43 years, the school had won a division title.
Micah, who was shot in the neck — one of three people caught in the crossfire — had been in critical condition since.
Howard said he didn’t know Micah, but news of his death Wednesday moved him and his teammates at school.
“People were screaming, crying, sad, all types of emotions going through,” he said.
Still, the rescheduled game between the schools went on as planned at the Lincoln Financial Field.
The Eagles offered the Linc as a neutral location for the teams to finish the 17 minutes remaining in their playoff game.
“I know them guys who had that experience, that’s something that they’re going to take the rest of their life,” said Brandon Graham, a defensive end with the Eagles. “And then they’re going to take this because the Eagles definitely made this a first-class thing even though it was a tragic event.”
Graham was just one of the Eagles players who came out to meet high school players from both Camden and Pleasantville before Wednesday’s game, which was limited to parents and some school faculty.
The stadium observed a moment of silence for Micah before the game resumed.
Two communities in mourning
Dee Akpan has lived in Pleasantville for 16 years. Her son Daniel is her third to go to the local high school.
Daniel is a junior and wide receiver on the team. He and his sister Joy, an eighth-grader in the school band, were both at Friday’s game while Dee was at work.
The school has always been a safe place, said Akpan and other Pleasantville parents. Authorities said the shooting had nothing to do with either town or the football game.
Still, Akpan remains shaken by the shooting. Her daughter chose not to play in the band for the rematch at the Linc and instead stayed by her mother’s side.
But Akpan said her son was determined to play, despite her concerns.
“I could have lost my son,” Akpan said. “I wanted him to stay home today, but the principal of Pleasantville and the mayor of Pleasantville, when they spoke on the TV, I heard that this place would be secure and that’s why allowed my son to be here today.”
Lamont Holloway Jr., a freshman at Pleasantville, was also determined to show up to the game even if he didn’t get to play, his family said.
His parents Bianca and Lamont said they were at the game with some 20 other family members, including children, when the gunfire broke out.
The family was moved by the Eagles’ gesture to offer their field, and like many families from both schools, they came decked out in Eagles gear.
“We bleed green in our house. This is something that the kids will never forget and I’m sure they’re very appreciative,” Lamont Holloway Sr. said.
The Holloways learned of Micah’s death on their way to the Linc, as did Kimesha Revels, the mother of Antwon, a junior and left guard on Camden’s team.
“I pray for the family of Micah,” she said. “I feel so bad for his mother. I don’t know what I would do.”
She described the shooting as like something you see in movies, not something “you should ever see at a football game.”
Murder charges filed
During the shooting, a bullet grazed a 15-year-old, who was treated and released from the hospital.
Ibn Abdullah, 27, an intended target of the shooting, was also injured.
Abdullah and five other men were charged in connection with the incident.
Alvin Wyatt, 31, saw his charges elevated to one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, per Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon Tyner.
Wyatt and four other men at the game were also charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.
Crushing end to the season
During the first half of the game in Pleasantville, Camden was leading Pleasantville 6-0. The second half of the game, which took place at the Linc, ended 22-0.
Camden will face Cedar Creek High School next Saturday for the Central Group 2 Sectional Championship.
Howard, who wore No. 10 in honor of Micah, said the loss was a blow, but that the game was bigger than winning.
“We came out here for Micah first and foremost, and that’s all that really matters at the end of the day,” he said.