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

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    NJ Advance Media staff releases its latest group and conference rankings of the season.


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    At least four statues of the polarizing historical figure were vandalized this week.

    A Christopher Columbus statue in Trenton's Chambersburg neighborhood has become at least the fourth of the explorer's likeness to be vandalized in New Jersey this week. 

    Lawmakers, officials and residents discussed the colonizer's place in American history on Columbus Day in October

    Many lumped Columbus and his statues in with other historical figures that were being defaced across the country because of their ties to slavery and marginalization of certain racial groups. 

    Others, like Andre' DiMino, an executive board member of the Bloomfield-based Italian American One Voice Coalition, argued he created a bridge between two worlds. 

    "He was no angel, but his efforts and his expertise opened up the New World to the settling that occurred," DiMino said.

    A letter left at the statue in Trenton's Columbus Park titled "F--k your new world" explains that the writers feel communities can be hurt by "progress that is quickly swallowing neighborhoods across the country."

    The note also says the group will be acting on Columbus statues throughout the state. It was signed, "Lovingly, NJ Anti-Facists."

    A statue in Dahnert's Lake County Park in Garfield and two in Camden County were also splattered with red paint at some point in the last four days. 

    Paige Gross may be reached at pgross@njadvancemedia.comFollow her on Twitter @By_paigegross. Find NJ.com on Facebook. 


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    The girl's mother told police her boyfriend beat the little girl for not eating dinner.

    When Natalise Gunter, 4, died after being found unresponsive in her Camden home six months ago, her name was already known to local law enforcement and the Department of Children and Families.

    The child welfare agency had already received five calls in less than a year from police and citizens who were concerned that the girl and her two siblings were being abused, DCF revealed in a statement this week.

    The statement reveals that efforts by DCF workers and judges to protect the children from their mother's boyfriend, Najuquan Ross, 20, did not save Natalise from an untimely death.

    "Her mother's boyfriend allegedly abused Natalise, and this abuse allegedly led to her death," the department said. "At the time of her death, Natalise remained in her mother's custody, but her mother's boyfriend was not permitted access to the home or children by court order."

    The case is one of two cases reported by NJ Advance Media last summer in which a child died after the child welfare agency had concerns about abuse or neglect.

    In August, Kayley Freeman, 2, asphyxiated in her car seat while her mother, Deanna Joseph, of Alloway Township, sat high on drugs in the front seat, according to authorities. Joseph, who is charged in her death, had lost custody at various times of five other children before Kayley, DCF confirmed.

    Gunter's two other children, whom DCF described as Natalise's half siblings, are no longer living with their mother.

    It's the first official statement DCF has given since Natalise, who was nicknamed Kayla, died July 18.

    Her mother, Lucy Gunter, 20, called 911 to report her daughter wasn't breathing and later told police the girl had been lethargic since Ross allegedly beat her in the head for refusing to eat three days earlier.

    Gunter took a plea deal in October, admitting she didn't get medical help for her child and agreeing to testify against Ross in exchange for no jail time. Her sentencing has been postponed several times and is now scheduled for Feb. 16.

    Ross, who is facing several charges including murder, is being held without bail in this case and another in which he allegedly assaulted court officers trying to prevent him from speaking with Gunter in the courthouse days after Natalise's death.

    In a detention hearing in the latter case, Judge Kathleen Delaney called Ross "out of control" and said he had a violent history as a youth offender and an adult.

    Timeline of DCF involvement

    In the statement released Sunday, DCF said Natalise was left in her mother's custody despite reports of abuse, but Ross was barred from having contact with the children. It also stated that another sibling was found to have been abused.

    The first time someone contacted DCF with concerns the children were being abused or neglected was May 15, 2016, according to the department. Staff conducted a Child Welfare Service assessment and closed the case five weeks later.

    On July 18, 2016 -- exactly a year before Natalise's death -- DCF received another call about Natalise allegedly being abused or neglected. DCF said the report was "not established" but staff referred Gunter to domestic violence services.

    The next report DCF received was from law enforcement officials who were investigating alleged domestic violence involving Ross and Gunter on Dec. 28, 2016. According to court records, Ross was later convicted of beating Gunter with a broom and given three years probation.

    Police relayed that during the incident, Ross had allegedly made threats against the children. As a result, Superior Court judge in Camden County issued an order barring Ross from having contact with Gunter or her children, DCF said.

    This report of abuse and neglect was the only one of the five DCF received that caseworkers determined was "established." The department said it opened a case for the family and Gunter accepted the offer of domestic violence services, but did not attend any appointments.

    The department received calls alleging Natalise was being abused or neglected on March 20, 2017, and on April 3, 2017. The latter was after the child had missed a week of school, DCF said. "These allegations were investigated together and were determined to be not established," the department said.

    However, DCF still asked a judge to allow the department to open a Care and Supervision case in court to monitor the living situation of Natalise and her siblings.

    Asked why the case was opened despite the finding that the allegations were unfounded, DCF spokeswoman Leida Arce said a case can begin "when the welfare of a child necessitates, regardless of any finding of abuse or neglect." 

    A judge granted the request, DCF said, and ordered DCF to do a physical abuse evaluation for Natalise and to refer the Gunters to Family Preservation Services. According to the state, Family Preservation Services is an intensive, in-home crisis intervention and family education program to stabilize families when children are at "imminent risk" of being abused, neglected or removed from their home.

    DCF said that Gunter completed a domestic violence counseling program May 1 and was referred to additional services, but no other details were given.

    The statement does not list any other involvement with the family in the time leading up to Natalise's death in July. It also did not say whether caseworkers or probation officers were checking to ensure Ross was not violating the order barring him from contacting the family.

    According to Gunter's statement to police the day her daughter died, she entrusted Ross with the children's care even when she wasn't there to supervise.

    She told police Ross was babysitting her children July 15 while she was at work. When she returned home, she said Natalise was missing a tooth and had cuts and bruises on her face, according to the probable cause statement.

    Ross said the girl was injured when she fought back while he was beating her for not eating, Gunter told police.

    Ross' attorney has said in court that he denies babysitting the children that day.

    The girl stopped eating and slept a lot over the following days, according to the statement, but Gunter did not call 911 until her daughter was unresponsive.

    DCF said that after Natalise's death, one of her siblings was found to have injuries that doctors said with a "medical degree of certainty" were from child abuse and blunt force trauma.

    Arce said state law prevents her from answering a question regarding whether workers suspected the third sibling was ever abused.

    No trial date has been scheduled for Ross.

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


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    Janine Kelley, 36, was sentenced to 12 years in prison on conspiracy charges in the sexual abuse case.

    The ex-girlfriend of a popular former chef serving time for sexually exploiting children has been sentenced to more than a decade in prison on conspiracy charges in the case, authorities said. 

    Janine Kelley, 36, of Audubon, was sentenced Friday to 12 years for conspiring to produce sexually explicit images of children alongside her boyfriend, well-known Collingswood chef Alexander Capasso, federal prosecutors said. 

    After her time in prison, prosecutors said Kelley will be subject to 10 years of supervised release under the terms set by Judge Jerome B. Simandle in Camden. 

    Kelley, a registered nurse, pleaded guilty in August to one count of conspiring with 44-year-old Capasso to engage in the sexual exploitation. 

    Authorities said Kelley began a relationship with Capasso around 2011 and he told her he wanted to become sexually involved with children. The pair took photos of each other sexually engaging with a boy and a girl, both between 3 and 10 years old, from November 2011 through October 2012, prosecutors said. 

    The pair were arrested in July 2015 after undercover FBI investigators had online and text message conversations with Capasso in which he shared sexually explicit photos of minors, including a 5-year-old girl, prosecutors have said. 

    Capasso was sentenced Wednesday to 20 years in prison. He apologized for the abuse at his sentencing and denied abusing any other children, Philly.com reported. 

    Capasso, who operated Blackbird Dining Establishment and West Side Gravy between 2007 and 2013, is known in the South Jersey and Philadelphia culinary scene. He was also a partner at the now-shuttered Crow & Pitcher in Philadelphia. 

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

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips

     

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    Authorities said a 17-year-old from Clementon fatally shot another teen earlier this month.

    Police say they've identified the person who fatally shot a 17-year-old in Camden earlier this month and they need the public's help to find him. 

    Clementon resident Damann Alford, 17, faces a felony murder charge in the Jan. 8 slaying of Harrison Javier, marking the city's first homicide of the year, the Camden County Prosecutor's Office said Friday. 

    Damann-Alford.jpgDamann Alford is wanted for the murder of 17-year-old Harrison Javier. (Courtesy of Camden County Prosecutor's Office)

    County police found Javier shot around 1:20 p.m. near South 29th and Clinton streets, prosecutors said. He was pronounced dead about half an hour later at Cooper University Hospital, according to prosecutors.

    Those who knew Javier took to social media to mourn the loss and lament the tragedy of a life cut so short. Neighbors told NJ Advance Media they were shocked by the killing, committed in broad daylight on a Monday. 

    Authorities described Alford as a black male with black hair and brown eyes. He is about 5-foot-10 and weighs around 160 pounds. 

    Anyone who sees Alford should not approach him, as he is considered to be armed and dangerous, authorities said. Instead, they ask that witnesses call 911 immediately. 

    In June of 2014, Alford went missing and was later found by county police.

    People with information on Alford's whereabouts are encouraged to contact the prosecutor's office at 856-225-8475 or Camden County police at 856-757-7420.

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

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    There's a good chance that someone in your family owned a Singer sewing machine in days gone by.

    ELIZABETH -- Whether they used one that was powered by a treadle or a pedal, there's a really good chance that someone in your family owned a Singer sewing machine.

    singer1.pngAt one time, Singer sold more sewing machines than all of its competitors combined. 

    In 1873, the Singer Sewing Machine Manufacturing Co. purchased 32 acres of land in Elizabeth and established its first factory in the United States (the company also had a plant in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland). The company isn't credited with inventing the sewing machine, but founder Isaac Singer made crucial improvements to machine designs, patenting 12 ideas in 1857 alone.

    By the time the Elizabeth factory opened, Singer was selling more sewing machines than all of its competitors combined.

    The 6,000-strong workforce at the plant in the 1870s was the largest in the world at the time for a single establishment. For the 109 years that the factory operated in Elizabeth, a large proportion of residents were employed there at some point or were directly related to someone who was.

    The company had promotional ideas ahead of their time. It was the first company to spend $1 million a year on advertising, and offered giveaways such as free sewing machines for the wives of clergymen.

    Singer2.jpgSinger sewing machines were manufactured in Elizabeth for 109 years. 

    The iconic machine with the ornate cast iron framework was a staple in homes around the world. To this day, the simple, efficient design of the treadle-powered flywheel and drive belt on the late-19th century models operates flawlessly and quietly.

    At the turn of the century, Singer employee Phillip Diehl developed an electric motor for use with the machine (later founding the Diehl Manufacturing Co. in Elizabeth) that modernized it further. Eventually, the more compact machines of the 1950s through 1970s evolved.

    By the 1970s, however, the company was facing stiff competition from low-priced imports and a general decline in sewing machine sales. In 1982, the last 560 workers at the 1,400,000 square foot Elizabeth factory were laid off and the facility closed. The site at First and Trumbull streets is now home to an industrial park.

    The modern consumer era brought a decline in sales of sewing machines but they appear to making a comeback. SVP Worldwide, the current manufacturer of Singer-brand machines, says sales topped three million in 2012, which was twice as many as were sold 10 years before.

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


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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption at shelters and rescues.

    It's not always easy to know what to do when adopting a rescue dog, but a new website shows what to do - and what not to do - when adopting.

    Dog rescuer and trainer Julie Hart advocates for dog adopters with her new free website rescuedogsresponsibly.com. "I want to promote dog rescue by educating the dog adopter on how to select a compatible family pet," said Hart, "I want dog rescues to put the safety and needs of people first so dog adopters have a better dog adoption experience."

    Navigating the dog rescue world can be daunting. Hart's website takes a multi-pronged approach to help adopters, including information on how to choose a dog rescue to adopt from, understanding dog behavior, a flow chart to help choose a safe dog and dog rescue myths.

    Hart includes tips and videos on subjects like a dog's affinity of people, touch tolerance, fear, and rude dog behavior. Each video rates behavior as a preferred, medium, and poor dog behavior example. Hart also welcomes inquiries from dog rescues and shelters on how to improve the placement and selection of their dogs.

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


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    Get that NFC championship gear while it's hot! Watch video

    By Justin Decker

    At about 9:30 pm on Sunday the Philadelphia Eagles defeated the Minnesota Vikings for a championship slot in the Super Bowl, and by 6 a.m. the next day Dick's Sporting Goods and Modell's retail stores were ready for the crowds of fans looking to grab some championship memorabilia. 

    Fans flocked to the Dick's store in Deptford immediately after the game according to the store operations manager Matt Byrnes. Long lines were also seen at Modell's in Hamilton in Mercer County. 

    "As soon as the game ended we had a huge crowd come in cheering," Byrnes said. "It's just been excitement in the store, merchandise has been flying off the shelves. As it [gets stocked] from the back room it goes right out the front door."

    The most popular merchandise according to Byrnes has been the men's NFC conference shirts and the game day hats, which the store just received.

    One Eagles Fan, Linwood Wilmer, 68, said he tried picking up a championship hat Sunday night but the store had run out of stock by then. He came back on Monday to snag one.

    Wilmer said he is very excited to see the Eagles play in the Super Bowl again.

    "This has been a long time coming," Wilmer said. "I was here when [the Eagles] went to the Super Bowl before and I was disappointed when they didn't make it."

    Many other fans also grabbed the coveted hats, some picking up three or four at a time.

    Another fan Michael Gormley, 28, bought three championship hats saying, "Tom Brady better watch out."

    Byrnes also assured customers that the Deptford store will keep receiving Eagles merchandise as the weeks progress and the store will be stocked with hats and shirts for fans. 

    "We (The crew at Modell's in Hamilton Marketplace) got here last night at 8 o'clock and were told to wait," store manager Rob Velquatro said.

    By halftime they started getting set up and got done just in time.

    "At 9:42, I think, we opened the doors and there were already about 15 people out there coming in singing the Eagles fight song, chanting. It was pretty good. "

    He added: "If they win the Super Bowl, get here early."

    Michael Mancuso contributed to this story. Find NJ.com Eagles on Facebook.


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    Amazon has given lemons to some South Jersey towns bidding for its new headquarters. The best thing to do now is make some regional lemonade.

    With Amazon's "short list" of locales it's still considering for its HQ2 project, New Jersey could be heading for "split the baby" moment.

    The City of Camden, as well as Salem County and Atlantic City, are out of the competition at the end of Round 1. As game-show hosts say before losing contestants leave with their Rice-A-Roni as their consolation prize, "Thanks for playing."

    Still standing in the race for Amazon's $5 billion facility and its 50,000 jobs are Newark, Philadelphia and New York City. That Newark is still under consideration justifies the "official" New Jersey backing given to it by former Gov. Chris Christie, as legislative leaders signaled approval.

    The state's Newark endorsement may have caused some bruised feelings in Jersey City, Camden, etc., but it's academic now that Newark is the only finalist with "NJ" in front of its ZIP Code. It's not worth debating now whether this was a chicken-and-egg outcome: Is Newark on still alive only because the state concentrated an eye-popping $5 billion toward incentives there? The tax breaks clearly put a "Hey, Look at Me!" sign on Newark's proposal that metrics-crunchers at Amazon's existing left-coast headquarters could not ignore.

    It's probably selling Newark short to claim it was the money alone that got the attention of the online retail giant. Other factors suggest that Newark is a place that is looking forward, with or without Amazon.

    But here's the conundrum: What if Philadelphia -- or New York City -- emerges as a front runner, and Newark doesn't? How much, if at all, does New Jersey attach itself to Philly or the Big Apple and cite it as a "regional" bid? In either case, economic benefits surely would accrue to a portion of the Garden State -- but at only to one end of the state. Already, some informal lines are being drawn. 

    "This is great news for Philadelphia, Camden and South Jersey," reacted Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. upon being informed last week that Camden, but not Philadelphia, had been dropped.

    "We believe that if the Philadelphia metropolitan area makes the final cut it will be a big win for the overall region ... " added the chief booster of the Camden bid.

    We find this approach to be refreshingly pragmatic. It surely makes sense, going forward, that South Jersey's assets be placed in a gift box with Philadelphia's for the next pitch that Philly makes to Amazon. For a company that needs scads of well-educated tech workers, why list Drexel University's engineering graduates as a resource without including Rowan University's?

    In terms of moral support, South Jersey needs to contribute to and enhance Philadelphia's effort, more than Newark's. When Carson Wentz is injured, folks around here rally around Nick Foles, not Eli Manning.

    If Philadelphia -- or New York -- make the next cut, but not Newark, it would be ridiculous for New Jersey's $5 billion to continue along on the ride. But it's not ridiculous for New Jersey's planning and economic development personnel to willingly offer technical assistance to mayors Bill de Blasio and Jim Kenney. Nor would it be unrealistic for New Jersey to offer some smaller degree of financial incentive for any related component of "Philadelphia" or "New York" Amazon development that is located in our state.

    Around here, we'd have to go with Philadelphia's Kenney as first choice for the head coach most likely to win us the Super Bowl of landing corporate headquarters.

    Send a letter to the editor of South Jersey Times at sjletters@njadvancemedia.com

    Bookmark NJ.com/Opinion. Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find NJ.com Opinion on Facebook.


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