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Breaking news & local stories from Camden City, Berlin, Laurel Springs and more

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    Cole Galanti, 10, of Wenonah, sang "Know Your Enemy" onstage with Green Day at their show in Camden last week. Watch video

    CAMDEN -- Last week, Cole Galanti wrote a birthday card for his brother Ben Fox, who would have turned 18 on Aug. 31.

    Cole "wrote that he missed him very much and hoped he would send him some signs" that they were being watched over, his mother, Nicole Galanti, told NJ Advance Media.

    Ben, who attended West Deptford High School, was killed in June 2014 when he was riding his bike on Parkville Station Road and was hit by a car. The crash was a few months before his 15th birthday.

    Each year since Ben died, his family has celebrated his birthday by writing messages to him and burning them, "to send the message up to heaven," Galanti said. It's a way for Galanti's family, especially her daughter, Julianna, and Cole, who was 6 when Ben died, to process the grief.

    "We always ask for signs that we can't ignore," Galanti said. "Signs that are so evident that there's no other way it's not a sign from his brother."

    And besides asking for signs, there has been plenty of listening to Green Day, a favorite band of the family and one Ben often listened to. On what would have been Ben's 18th birthday, the family had tickets far away from the stage for the band's show at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden.

    But when the family arrived, a friend surprised them with tickets to get into "the pit," the area directly in front of the stage offering the best views of the band. Already, the evening was looking like a memorable one.

    Then, Cole got to meet Amber Miller, one of his favorite personalities from Radio 104.5. But Galanti says the clearest sign from above was when Billie Joe Armstrong, the band's lead singer and guitarist, was looking for a fan to come up on stage and sing part of "Know Your Enemy," Cole's favorite song. The interaction was captured in a video available on YouTube.

    "Do you know the lyrics?" Armstrong asks, pointing at Cole in the crowd. "Alright, get your f--ing a-- up here."

    Cole, beaming, got onstage, hugged Armstrong and sang the chorus with him, before diving into the crowd and crowdsurfing.

    "I was so excited for him," Galanti said, though she admitted she was frightened Cole would be sent to the back of the venue, which often happens to crowdsurfers. She didn't want to lose sight of him. But then, the crowd placed Cole down up front.

    It was a special day for the family, who has since moved to Wenonah from West Deptford. Galanti wrote a letter on Facebook last weekend, thanking the band for bringing Cole onstage and bassist Mike Dirnt for giving Cole and his sister Julianna picks to take home as a souvenir. 

    "Not bad for a kid who has terrible stage fright," she wrote when sharing the Youtube video of Cole singing and stagediving.

    A post shared by BB&T Pavilion (@bbtpavilion) on

    So what's it like to have a son in the spotlight?

    "It was really heartwarming for me," Galanti said. "Amazing things can happen even after a tragedy."

    The band closed the show with Ben's favorite song, "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," which Ben had setup to start playing whenever he opened his laptop. 

    All through the show, as the family kept getting surprised with good things, Cole kept his brother in mind.

    "He kept saying, 'thanks, Ben,'" Galanti said.

    Joe Brandt can be reached at jbrandt@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JBrandt_NJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The campus landscape at Rutgers University keeps on changing, with a slew of construction projects recently completed or in the works. Here's a look at the major changes on the campuses in New Brunswick, Piscataway, Newark and Camden.


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    What are the best games of Week 1?


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    NJ.com takes a look at N.J. alums on 2017 NFL rosters on the eve of the new season.


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    What was meant to be a trip to celebrate a friend's birthday turned into a volunteer opportunity.

    HOUSTON -- Camden County Freeholder William F. Moen Jr. had planned to visit Houston Labor Day weekend to celebrate the birthday of a friend who lived there.

    Then Hurricane Harvey happened.

    "Once we saw it hit, we figured the flights would be cancelled and we couldn't go," he said in an interview Tuesday. But when the flight was instead redirected to Dallas, the group of friends came up with a new way to spend the birthday.

    "We just said if we can get down there, we're going to help any way we can," Moen said.

    And help they did. The group spent over five hours Sunday ripping out drywall and cleaning the Houston home of a total stranger, who was desperate to at least make the house livable for her three kids.

    Lina Hernandez, who lives on the border of Houston and Pasadena, was at home with her kids and her boyfriend, Angel Blune, when the water started rising fast the first night Harvey made landfall.

    By the next day, it was three feet high. She put her chihuahuas and her children, Javen, 8, Tristan, 16, and Brianna, 18, on her bed to keep them out of the water, she said.

    She started calling the police and any number she could find, hoping someone could pick them up in a boat. She said she was told to wade and swim with her children to a nearby store that was a staging area, but decided it wasn't safe.

    "My kids don't know how to swim," she said. "I had no life vest for my 8 year old."

    The water receded eventually, but that was just the beginning of the ordeal, she said. Her house was now full of sewage and trash, in addition to her own filthy, ruined furniture and possessions.

    "I'm sure there are people who had it much worse than me," she said, but it was pretty bad. Tristan is on the autism spectrum and was having a breakdown.

    She and Blune were ripping up carpet and doing their best to make it so her kids could at least walk around the house, she said, "but what we really needed was someone to help us tear out the walls."

    Friends had shared her Facebook postings about the flood damage, and someone apparently posted her information on a website called swamplot.com, where people could post their address on the "Muck Map" to ask for help with storm clean-up.

    Hernandez said she doesn't know who did it, but suddenly Moen and his friends were at her house, telling her they knew she needed a hand removing drywall.

    Moen and Michael Vernamonti of Voorhees flew into Dallas Saturday, where their friend, Andrew Riebel, picked them up. Riebel and his fiance, Megan Evans, moved from Belmar to Houston in July.

    Moen found out about the Muck Map, and he and his three friends arrived Sunday ready to work.

    Tristan participates in the Special Olympics, and by chance, it was the same day that a family from the program had turned up to help the Hernandez family as well.

    "He and his friends were amazing... And one of them, it was his birthday!" she said of Moen's group. "They went straight to work and they just kept going."

    As she was thanking them when it time for them to leave that night, Hernandez said she couldn't contain her tears, after days of trying to stay strong for her kids.

    "That took such a burden off my shoulders, and I lost it and started crying," she said. Most of the drywall was removed in the bedrooms, hallway and living room.

    "What they did, it was enough that now we can start cleaning and doing mold treatment," she said.

    On Monday, the day Moen and Vernamonti flew back to New Jersey, Hernandez said she finally heard from FEMA that her family was approved to stay in a hotel for at least 30 nights. Like everyone else in her neighborhood, she doesn't have flood insurance. She said her home insurance company told her they'd be out to inspect her house as soon as they can -- which is Oct. 2.

    Moen, who works as the Southern New Jersey director for U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, said that looking up and down Hernandez street, he wished he could do more.

    "This home was one out of probably hundreds of thousands in that situation," he said.

    When he was a student at Rowan University, Moen said he went to New Orleans on a university trip to help clean up and rebuild homes destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He plans to see if area universities will set up similar trips in the wake of Harvey.

    "Houston is going to need the help," he said.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    Take a look at the shot blockers who will keep teams out of the net this season.


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    Key defensive playmakers from around the state - with videos.


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    Which players will be the best at forward in 2017?


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    Camden Jam is a free, full day arts and music festival.

    CAMDEN -- The City of Camden, Mayor Dana L. Redd and Connect the Lots, with the support of Cooper's Ferry Partnership, is proud to host the third annual Camden Jam: Arts and Music Festival on Saturday, September 9. The festival is free with ticket and open to the public, and will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. in Roosevelt Plaza Park at Camden City Hall.

    Camden Jam is a free, full-day arts and music festival featuring continuous live music, arts and crafts vendors, kids activities, sustainability demonstrations, food trucks and more! Hosted by Dyana Williams of Old School 100.3 (WRNB-FM), the festival will feature live music and cultural arts performances from headliners Kelly Price and Bilal, with additional performances from Camden's own CamdenpopRock, Elvis Alvarez, Camden Sophisticated Sisters, and the winner of the 2017 Camden's Got Talent showcase.

    The festival will also feature a variety of food and arts and crafts vendors from the city of Camden and surrounding region - refreshments, food and wares will be available for purchase. Featured food vendors include: El Guaco Loco, Virtua Health Mobile Farmer's Market, Payne Catering, Primo Water Ice, Respond Catering, Southern Twist Bakery Boutique, Festival Food Management, and Zoelily Empanadas.

    Additionally, attendees will be able to enjoy a variety of fun, FREE activities throughout the day including: face painting, glitter tattoos, bounce houses, button-making, spin art painting, basket weaving, caricatures, and a photo booth. Various community organizations will have displays onsite, along with a Green Discovery Zone that will highlight sustainable practices and encourage healthy family habits.

    For more information about the Camden Jam, visit connectthelotscamden.com/camden-jam-2017.

    Have community news you'd like to share? Send an email to sjtowns@njadvancemedia.com. Have an event happening you want to share? Go to nj.com/events to submit your information to be included in a community calendar. 

     

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    A site plan was approved after a marathon planning board meeting.

    CHERRY HILL -- A site plan was approved early Wednesday morning for a new Costco discount superstore after a marathon planning board meeting that lasted more than five hours, according to a published report.

    The plan calls for 174,218 square feet of retail use and includes a conditional use to operate a gas station on the 26-acre parcel, according to a recently published legal notice.

    The board voted 7 to 2 for approval, the Courier-Post reports.

    The facility is planned to rise in the sprawling Garden State Park large-format retail center. The township's general development plan for the site originally called for 1,023,400 square feet of office business park uses including a 150-room hotel. That plan was changed in 2015.

    Kung Fu Tea, Habit Burger Grill and 13 other new businesses coming to Cherry Hill

    The site sits on a parcel of undeveloped land near an existing Home Depot, part of 560,000-square-feet of mostly big-box retailers already here.

    The Costco here would be just the second in the western portion of South Jersey, along with a store in Mount Laurel. The chain operates 13 other stores in New Jersey and 717 other member-only stores in North America.

    Bill Duhart may be reached at bduhart@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @bduhart. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    The mayor has been a lifelong resident of the township and spent 27 years as a police lieutenant.

    WINSLOW TWP. -- The Winslow Township Board of Education invites school families and community members to the dedication of the Winslow Township School No. 4 Gymnasium.

    The gymnasium is being dedicated to Winslow Township Mayor Barry M. Wright.

    At the ceremony the school district will acknowledge Mayor Wright's devotion to the school and students by ceremoniously uncovering the plaque bearing Wright's name outside of the gym.

    Wright is a lifelong resident of Winslow Township and spent 27 years as a police lieutenant before retiring and becoming mayor.

    The dedication will take place Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m.

    For more information, please visit http://school4.winslow-schools.com/

    Have community news you'd like to share? Send an email to sjtowns@njadvancemedia.com. Have an event happening you want to share? Go to nj.com/events to submit your information to be included in a community calendar. 

     

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    Joseph Boyd will serve 70 months in prison for his role in selling drugs off a Camden city street.

    JosephBoyd.jpgJoseph Boyd.  

    CAMDEN -- A man who sold crack cocaine along with several others in a Camden drug ring was sentenced to more than five years in prison Wednesday. 

    Joseph Boyd, 32, previously pleaded guilty to conspiracy to distribute and to possession with intent to distribute cocaine base, authorities said. On Wednesday, he was sentenced to 70 months in prison at federal court in Camden, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

    Boyd was arrested last year along with seven others accused of operating selling and supplying drugs in an organization that operated on Lansdowne Avenue. 

    He admitted in April that he sold crack cocaine in and around the 1100 block of Lansdowne Avenue, while also supplying crack cocaine to others involved in the conspiracy. 

    Of the other seven arrested with Joseph Boyd, three including his brother, Jason Boyd, Derek Stallworth and Tony Wilson have all pleaded guilty to drug and firearm charges and were sentenced to 96 months in prison, authorities said. Julian Dickerson and Nafeez Griffin have also pleaded guilty and await sentencing, while Preston Thomas and Jeffrey Whitaker are still facing the charges brought against them, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. 

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at ahoover@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @amahoover. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    The girl was riding her bike when she was caught in gunfire intended for another, officials said.

    CAMDEN -- The man authorities say shot an 8-year-old girl by accident during a 2016 gang-related shooting will stand trial for murder this fall.

    Judge John T. Kelley set a trial date of Nov. 27 for Tyhan D. Brown, 19, according to court officials. He has been in jail since U.S. Marshals arrested him in Tennessee nearly a year ago.

    According to statements made last year by Assistant Camden County Prosecutor Christine Shah, Gabrielle "Gabby" Hill Carter was riding her bike on South 8th Street Aug. 24, 2016 when numerous shooters descended on the street in an attempt to shoot a young man named Amir Dixon.

    Dixon and Carter were both trying to get into the same house to evade the bullets when Carter was shot in the head, Shah said. She died two days later.

    The prosecutor's office said the shooting was the culmination of an escalating dispute between Dixon and Brown. Hours earlier, someone fired a gun in the area from a car belonging to Brown's mother, Shah said.

    Brown fled to a relative's home in Tennessee and his mother, Shakia Land, and girlfriend, Natasha Gerald, provided false alibis to police to cover for him, authorities said. Both were charged with hindering an investigation days before Brown's arrest in Tennessee Sept. 23.

    The killing shocked the community, though gun violence is not uncommon there. Organizations and individuals donated $76,000 for a reward, but police have said that anyone who knew anything remained mum.

    If Brown had accomplices in the shooting as the prosecutor's office claims, it appears he has not revealed their names. Other than Brown, Land and Gerald, no one else has been charged in connection with the killing.

    PhillyVoice, which first wrote about Brown's trial date, reported that Kelley took the unusual step of setting the date without Brown being in the courtroom, though his attorney was present.

    The news site reported that Brown has been offered a 40-year-old plea deal.

    Land is working with the prosecutor's office on a plea agreement, PhillyVoice reported.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Fans can ask questions and chat live with the six NJ.com football writers during our first Live Chat, Wednesdsay, Sept. 6, 7-8 p.m.

    WOODBRIDGE -- This isn't a scrimmage. This one counts.

    So fans, buckle up and bring it to the first live chat with the NJ.com football writers Wednesday, 7-8 p.m.

    To join the chat, use the comments box below or the hashtag #HSFBCHAT.

    We changed the day of the chat so there are no conflicts with Sunday Night, Monday Night or Thursday Night football. We know you've been saving up those questions and discussions for the last month.

    NJ.com writers Bill Evans, Pat Lanni, Jeremy Schneider, Joe Zedalis, JJ Conrad and Matt Stypulkoski will be prepared to answer your questions and join in discussions about the 2017 season.

    Some topics of discussion include:

    • The NJ.com Top 20

    • The sectional prediction by NJ.com writers

    • Sleeper teams

    • Top players

    • Anything else that comes to mind

    See you Wednesday!

    Joe Zedalis may be reached at jzedalis@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @josephzedalis. Like NJ.com HS sports on Facebook.


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    A judge has not granted opponents' request for an injunction to stop the project.

    CAMDEN -- The process of demolishing the 101-year-old Camden High School appears to be going ahead, despite the protests of opponents and a federal lawsuit seeking an injunction.

    The state awarded a contract for the demolition to USA Environmental Management, Inc. of Philadelphia Sept. 1, according to the School Development Authority spokeswoman Edythe Maier.

    While the $6.7 million contract has not yet been fully executed, the district is still on schedule to begin demolition sometime this fall.

    The school nicknamed "The Castle on the Hill" for its impressive tower and turrets is slated to come down to make room for its replacement, a state-funded, $133 million building expected to be finished as early as 2021.

    The 242,000-square-foot building will house four separate "academies" including the high school, Brimm Medical Arts High School, Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, and Camden Big Picture Learning Academy.

    While some residents and alumni want to renovate the building or at least save the tower, which was renovated in 2009, school officials cite a feasibility study that found that those options would cost more than building from scratch. Plus, Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard said, neither would allow them to combine the four schools into one building.

    "We're continuing to work closely with the community and SDA to advance this very important project to provide our students and families a state of the art facility," said district spokeswoman Maita Soukup.

    Neither the School Development Authority (SDA) nor the district could provide a date when demolition is expected to begin. In a federal lawsuit, a lawyer claims officials have already begun demolition by dismantling fixtures in the cafeteria, gymnasium and weight room.

    Efforts by community members to halt the project are ongoing, but have not yet been able to even delay it.

    A lawsuit filed July 25 asks for an injunction to stop the project, but the judge on the case has not granted it. The suit says the plaintiffs -- six residents and the high school's PTO and alumni association -- "are doubtful that any replacement will ever be completed."

    Some have expressed fear that the project is just a pretense and those in political power are planning to demolish the school, and if or when the new governor kills the funding for construction, force the students into charter schools instead. School officials deny that.

    Keith Errol Benson, one of the plaintiffs, has said it is not true that renovations would be more expensive because the project could get funding the school if the school was designated historic.

    The attorney representing the district has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing among other things that the SDA and district followed state laws and procedures, and the plaintiffs lack standing to file the suit. The motion will come before Judge Robert B. Kugler Oct. 2, but he indicated in court records that oral arguments are not necessary.

    So far, attempts to protect Camden High School from demolition by getting it added to the Register of Historic Places have not succeeded.

    The building was issued a certificate of eligibility in January, but cannot be added to the register until the city's mayor and Historic Preservation Commission approve its application, and then forward it on to the State Review Board for consideration.

    Mayor Dana Redd has expressed support for the plan to replace the school. Calls and emails to city officials to determine if Redd or the commission have considered the application were not returned Wednesday.

    Even if the city officials did approve the application, the State Review Board doesn't meet until November.

    Being added to the list doesn't automatically stop demolition plans. The board could approve the demolition if officials came up with a plan to mitigate the loss of the history, like preserving some of the turrets or other features.

    The city is already planning to do so in a sculpture garden near the Camden County Historical Society, officials said.

    USA Environmental Management, Inc. has done work for the school district before, including on Morgan Village Middle School in 2012 and the former Lanning Square Elementary School in 2009 and 2010.

    The company declined to comment on its plans for the Camden High project.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.


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    A September tradition for generations.

    DSC_7241.JPGWE didn't have air conditioners back then! 
    DSC_7226.JPGEven not there, my locker is still a pigsty. 

    I recently took a trip to the place where I grew up. On this particular trip, I stopped by the properties that were home to the schools I attended.

    St. Francis of Assisi School in Vineland was where I attended grades one through eight. The building is still there, but it's now occupied by the Compass Academy Charter School. Sacred Heart High School in Vineland, also my alma mater, closed following the 2012-13 school year; the building is now home to a Diaconate Center, run by the Diocese of Camden.

    Here's my message to those of you who attended schools that are still operating: Stay involved! That is, go to football games and school plays, volunteer your time in the library or join the alumni association because the day may come when the building is razed or when it is no longer occupied by students and teachers. And as I've come to realize, that's a sad day.

    I looked at my first-grade classroom at old St. Francis. My mind was flooded with memories. I remembered starting first grade and recalled the first day in each classroom as I progressed up the length of the building. Things appeared similar at this Compass Academy Charter School, but not the same.

    MORE: Vintage photos around New Jersey

    I also wandered around what was Sacred Heart High School. Structurally, it's hardly changed from when I wandered those same halls 40 years ago, but they're empty now, never to see the excitement mixed with foreboding, mixed with confusion as each new school year started. The hallway that was a beehive of activity when class periods changed is empty now.

    Life goes on. Things change. But our school years were some of the most formative in our lives. If you can, take a trip back to your old schools; good or bad, memories like these are worth recalling.

    Here's a gallery of people returning to school in New Jersey through the years. And here are links to other galleries you might like:

    Vintage photos of going to school in N.J.

    Vintage photos of going back to school in N.J.

    Greg Hatala may be reached at ghatala@starledger.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregHatala. Find Greg Hatala on Facebook.


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    He had been ordered to get batterers counseling months before the alleged beating, records show.


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    This list features the bulldozers and the shifty backs that make high school football special.


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    Authorities have not released any information about a possible motive.

    CAMDEN -- Lamar Abdul Thompson, 27, didn't have an easy life in the city, despite unwavering support from his family across the river in Philadelphia.

    That life was cut short when he was gunned down Saturday night, along with another man who survived the shooting.

    Victor Ruiz Jr., 26, is charged with the killing, but authorities have not released information about a possible motive.

    Thompson's death has devastated family and friends in both cities, said his cousin, Rhonda Sharee Harvey.

    "Lamar tried his best to overcome every obstacle he faced as a man and will be remembered for his beautiful smile, silly spirit, light hazel eyes and his desire to not give up or be ashamed of anything," she said.

    Harvey said her cousin grew up in Philadelphia and attended Lamberton High School before moving to Camden several years ago. She said he wanted to "make his own way" there and be closer to his three children.

    He loved his kids, Harvey said, and always tried to do right by them, even when he was having a tough time.

    "He struggled with homelessness for a period of time," she said. His family tried to help him. "He was too prideful at times and liked to handle things on his own."

    She said he was happy to do any honest work he could get, but wanted to have his own construction business someday.

    "Lamar was witty, optimistic, charming and was always driven to be a better person," Harvey said. "He was fascinated with cars, loved dirt bikes and enjoyed eating good food. He wasn't a shy person -- he loved to be different and had no problem with being himself."

    Thompson is the 15th shooting death in Camden this year, compared to 44 homicides in the city last year.

    Most of the 15 killings are unsolved, but it didn't take police long to arrest Ruiz.

    According to the Camden County prosecutor's office and a probable cause statement, Ruiz parked his car at the gas pumps of the Gulf gas station at 1033 Kaighn Blvd. around 9:40 p.m. He then walked behind the station, where he shot Thompson and a man identified only as R.B., then got back in his car and left the area, detectives allege.

    An officer heard the shooting, found R.B. with gunshot wounds to his face and shoulder, and rushed him to the Cooper University Hospital, the statement said. Other officers who responded found Thompson, who died from multiple gunshot wounds at the hospital.

    No update was available on the condition of the man identified as R.B.

    Rebecca Everett may be reached at reverett@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @rebeccajeverett. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     

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    Get a glimpse of the playmakers who will define the 2017 season.


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