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

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    Joe Manghan met the group playing online games, and they have remained friends for years

    Joe Manghan's group of friends knows him as the one who brought them all together, from all over the continent, into one place.

    The place was on online, to play games like Arma 2, Mount & Blade: Warband and Europa Universalis IV, and they used voice chat running in the background to discuss their play.

    But soon that chat became more: a place to vent, to joke around, to just listen and enjoy each other's company.

    Until recently, they never met in person.

    This past weekend I visited 5 friends I never met before despite knowing them for 5+ years, including Joe who is terminally ill with Ewings Sarcoma. We all met through online gaming, nobody had met each other in person until a day before this from r/pics

    Joe, a 23-year-old Pennsauken native, is in hospice care fighting a second battle with Ewing's sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that attacked his spine.

    And his battle brought his friends together to another place last weekend - his bedside.

    After beating the cancer a first time -- following a diagnosis on the day of his high school graduation in 2014 -- the illness recurred this year and is now terminal. Joe hasn't been home since April 24, when he went in for an MRI, his mother Susann Simpson said.

    But through much of his ordeal, in between all the doses of medicine, the MRIs, the constant attention from nurses at Samaritan Hospice in Voorhees, Joe's friends were always there in the chat.

    He had the voice chat up and running on a laptop in his bed with him when a reporter visited Wednesday.

    "They're about his only social outlet that wasn't medical personnel or family," Susann said. "His friends met him where he was, and that was online."

    The visit

    The group of five who came to see him on Saturday -- the people seen in the Reddit post -- had talked about seeing him for months, Joe said.

    Liam and David flew from eastern Canada down to Akron, Ohio, where Doug lives.

    Another friend, Josh, drove all the way from Oklahoma to meet those three in Ohio.

    The group of four drove to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to pick up Wyatt before arriving in Voorhees. They paid for all their travel and a room nearby, Simpson said.

    "Lots of money and planning went into this," David wrote in a comment below his Reddit post about the visit, which had 148,000 upvotes as of Thursday.

    Joe said he was overwhelmed with emotion when they arrived Saturday evening.

    "Even though I knew they were coming, it still was enough to send me into tears," he said. "They're my best friends. They were everything to me. In every possible way that they could be, they were. I knew them for years, every person in that picture."

    They played some games from the Jackbox Party Pack. They watched some TV, too, but Joe doesn't remember what was on. They were talking over it, anyway.

    "We didn't tape anyone to the ceiling ... it wasn't some epic party," Joe said. "It was literally just to see each other, that was it."

    "I was happy, and shook everybody's hand, and made sure to kind of hug them and embrace them like they were my brothers. And to a sense, they were. You talk to these people every day, you don't see them, but you talk to them, you play with them, you tell them how you are."

    Not actually the first visit

    Two other friends visited Joe earlier this month.

    On Sept. 1, Nick Werden, a 19-year-old Newtown, Connecticut resident, came down to see Joe too. It was a surprise on top of another: the staff had just wheeled Joe outside to get some fresh air.

    Nick let Joe get settled out there before coming up to his bedside in a moment that Susann captured on video.

    They talked about the weather, and Joe didn't recognize him at first, so Susann told him "close your eyes and listen to the voice."

    "That's when it clicked," Werden said in an interview. 

    "Watching that realization come over his face, that's something that I'll never forget," Werden said.

    Earlier this year, "when he called me and told me ... that it was terminal, I told him, 'you have to tell me when you're somewhere that I can come see you,'" Werden said. He later reached out to Joe's mom to get the hospice address and made the drive from Connecticut with his dad.

    "He's done so much for all of us online that I knew it was something that I had to do, just to try to do something for him, whatever I could," Werden said.

    For his part, meeting Joe didn't get Werden as emotional as he thought it would. As great as it was to see each other in person, in some way it felt like picking up where they left off.

    "It didn't feel like the first time," he said. "I know him so well. Even though it's never been in person, I know Joe."

    Another friend, Ryan, visited September 5.

    Their response to the attention

    With thousands of upvotes and comments on the picture of the meeting, it's safe to say the Reddit post resonated with people. And it got Joe, Nick and Susann thinking about the nature of their group's friendship.

    "I feel like a lot of people have had similar connections but for whatever reason couldn't stick with them," Werden said. 

    Several Reddit commenters were calling out to friends they had played games with in the past, hoping to find them again. Others were reaching out to Joe, reminding him of epic battles fought in the past or times they played for hours.

    "Maybe people will finally start understanding," Simpson said. "These friendships are far more than just a shallow game."

    And Joe said it shows that online friendships can go far beyond "that one person that you just play that game with." You can lean on online friends, too.

    "A lot of people resonated with the fact that you know, you can make friends with people online and remember what you did together for years," Joe said.

    "Never forget what you do with someone just because you're doing it with someone you don't know," he went on. "You'll never know if you're going to remember that moment forever or if you're going to remember that moment for 20 minutes."

    A GoFundMe for Joe's family is available here.

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

    Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips 


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    Find out which freshmen stood out in each conference this week.


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    DAER Nightclub, inside Hard Rock in Atlantic City, brings in national performers, celebrities and people who like to party.


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    Loretta Weinberg said she revealed abuse she told nobody about for 70 years after watching the Brett Kavanaugh hearings.

    Moved by the solidarity of abused women speaking out in reaction to testimony against U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, New Jersey's highest-ranking female elected state official revealed Friday she had been molested by a family friend when she was a teenager.

    State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, said in an afternoon posting on Facebook that she was revealing something she had never told anyone.

    "OK here goes. I am 83 years old and I still remember the EXACT moment and EXACTLY where I was at age 13 when I was first horribly groped and forcibly kissed by a middle aged man who had been (a) welcome visitor in my home. And no I never told anyone till now. His name was Ben Laverty. And no I am not confused. And yes that was a long time ago."

    Tell us your experiences with sexual harassment in N.J.

    Weinberg said she felt inspired to share her story because of the support women have shown each other following the emotionally raw testimony of Christine Blasey Ford, the psychologist from California who described how Kavanaugh tackled her on a bed and tried to remove her clothes. Ford told the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee she was 100 percent sure it was Kavanaugh. 

    Kavanaugh and his supporters have said they don't doubt Ford was attacked but that it must have been by someone else and she is mis-remembering the incident.

    Weinberg, a legislator since 1992, told the story "to show that these assaults are seared in our emotions, on our brains and on our bodies," she said in an email to NJ Advance Media.

    On Thursday, state Assemblywoman Pamela Lampitt, D-Camden, stood up on the floor of the Statehouse chamber and revealed she had been the victim of sexual harassment. She did not reveal any details. Lampitt made the remarks as the Assembly voted to update its sexual harassment policy.

    Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, and First Lady Tammy Murphy, who revealed at the Women's March in January that she had been sexually assaulted in college, released a statement of support late Friday.

    "We are awed by the courage of survivors like Senator Weinberg and Assemblywoman Lampitt, who are coming forward with their harrowing stories of sexual assault, no matter if it's days, months, years, or even decades later," the Murphys said in the statement.

    "We must use this moment in time to ensure that every woman's voice is heard, so every victim may be given a chance to seek justice and peace of mind from the damage done by sexual harassment or assault, and to work toward a safer, more respectful future for all women," the couple added.

    Susan K. Livio may be reached at slivio@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @SusanKLivio. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook. 


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    From the governor's office to Freeholders, state and local leaders weigh in on the special ruling issued to regulate breweries


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    What went on in New Jersey high school football Friday? We've got you covered.


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    Malcolm Jenkins to be honored for his contributions to the community.

    On the football field, the Philadelphia Eagles' safety Malcolm Jenkins is a star.

    But off the field, the Eagle gives just as much effort and it's something he's being recognized for next week.

    On Monday, Camden will presented the key to the city to Jenkins for his community efforts to "support youth and the underserved," officials have announced.

    Jenkins' work is through the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation which he founded in 2010.

    "It is truly an honor to be receiving a key to the City of Camden ...," said Jenkins. "Earlier this year during the Malcolm Jenkins Foundation 'Get Ready Fest' here in Camden we were inspired by the people of this city, and today I find myself once again reminded .... to try and always lead by example."

    In 2018, the foundation partnered with Feed the Children and other community partners to host "Get Ready Fest" at Antioch Baptist Church in Camden, according to a press release announcing Jenkins' honor. The outreach event helped to provide hundreds of pre-identified families with 25 pounds of food, 10 pounds of essential items, as well as health and wellness products.

    The event also offers an array of health-related services and information for the community including screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, diabetes, asthma, basic eye and dental check-ups, GED, job training, plus senior, veteran and youth services.

    Camden Mayor Frank Moran, along with a number of other city, state and community leaders, will present the key to Jenkins in the ceremony in City Hall Monday.

    Jenkins says he was inspired to start the foundation by his father who instilled the importance of hard work and giving back to the community in him.

    The foundation has a strong relationship with four regions -- Jenkins' home state of New Jersey; Columbus, Ohio, where Jenkins spent his college years; New Orleans where Jenkins began his NFL career and Philadelphia where he plays with the Eagles.

    Bill Gallo Jr. may be reached at bgallo@njadvancemedia.com. Follow Bill Gallo Jr. on Twitter @bgallojr. Find NJ.com on Facebook. Have a tip? Tell us. nj.com/tips


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    Crime across the state is down, but more and more minors -- some not yet teens -- are getting arrested for violent crimes


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    I have seen apologies that are no more than damage control all my life, and I am tired of it.

    A public apology and request for forgiveness has become a standard mode of operation for far too many people attempting to placate the public after damaging their brand or image with inappropriate comments or actions. 

    I have seen this all my life, and I am tired of it.

    I believe in forgiveness, but the offender must demonstrate sincerity and some effort to change. That effort certainly seems to be lacking in two separate, but similar, recent incidents. 

    First, Holtec International CEO Kris Singh stereotyped the entire City of Camden, making bigoted -- although not racist -- comments regarding residents who sought to work for his company, which is now headquartered in the city.

    Second, racist remarks made by Bergen County Sheriff Michael Saudino were released to the public. Saudino has since resigned from his elected post. 

    I cannot accept an apology from someone who shows me that it is merely an apology of convenience. I must accept them and respond to them as they really are. It is better to be fully aware of someone's bigoted or racist views in order to defend and protect one's family and interests.

    Singh was quoted as stating, "They (city residents Holtec hires as temporary employees) don't show up for work. They can't stand getting up in the morning and coming to work every single day. They haven't done it and they don't see their parents do it. Of course, some of them get into drugs and things. So it's difficult."

    I would like to let the CEO know that people lacking a strong work ethic can be found in every community, city and nation, including his native Republic of India.

    I invite Singh to meet me in downtown Camden any workday morning and see  all the residents driving to work, walking to jobs at Cooper University Hospital, or going to the Walter Rand Transportation Center to catch a bus or train to their employer. Then, we could meet any Saturday morning directly in front of City Hall, so he can observe what drug addiction looks like in Holtec's back yard. He will see that a majority of addicts coming into Camden for drug treatment appear to be young, white suburbanites.

    From my perspective, there was no need for Singh to apologize for his apparently honest, yet misguided, beliefs regarding Camden's mainly black and Latino residents. I now know who he is. I hope he enjoys the $260 million state tax break that Holtec received to move to Camden. I wish I could get similar credits for my business interests, but I do not even qualify for the Homestead Property Tax Credit on my residence. The state has determined that my income is too high, although I suspect my earnings pale in comparison to Singh's.

    Singh's comments are practically inconsequential compared to those made by the former Bergen sheriff. I will summarize what Saudino was caught on tape saying: He questioned the sexual orientation of Lt. Gov. Shelia Oliver, as if it was any of his business. He said that state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal -- a Sikh who seems to be a favorite target of those spewing hate -- was appointed by the governor only "because of the turban." Saudino also remarked that Gov. Phil Murphy, a backer of marijuana law reforms, was letting "the blacks" smoke "their" marijuana and do whatever they want at the expense of law-enforcement personnel.

    Try to look at this from the perspective of minority residents. The sheriff was in office for eight years, first as a Republican but as a Democrat since 2016. He held immense political power, and great authority in the criminal justice system of the state's largest-population county. It's rather unreasonable for anyone to believe that Saudino brought a fair and impartial approach to his duties after hearing his tirade. 

    I agree wholeheartedly with Attorney General Grewal's statement that it is extremely disturbing that a roomful of people heard Saudino's comments and said nothing to dispute them. After the comments became public, numerous elected officials ran to denounce him, but in a sanitized way. Friends and peers said Saudino's words "did not reflect American values" or that the remarks did not come from "the sheriff that they knew." Some buffered their description of the comments as "abhorrent and unbecoming" by expressing "disappointment" with someone they thought was "an honorable man."

    Leave it to State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, to state the obvious clearly: "The racist, homophobic and derogatory words employed by Sheriff Saudino are a highly offensive assault on the principles of respect and decency that are a vital part of American society... ."

    This Senate leader was one of a very few unafraid to make it plain, and call it as it is. I do not believe it is a coincidence that Weinberg, who likely has faced a lifetime of negative experiences based on her gender, found so little company in speaking the truth.

    Milton W. Hinton Jr. is director of equal opportunity for the Gloucester County government. He is past president of the Gloucester County Branch NAACP. His column states his personal views, not those of any organization or agency. Email: mwhjr678@gmail.com.

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


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    A Voorhees Township committeeman caught in a bar fight is the latest politician to think he has the power to impede law enforcement.

    New Jersey's latest politician to play the " 'Do you know who I am?' card" when interacting with law enforcement does not involve a powerful state legislator. But, citizens should be incensed, even though this entitlement claim belongs to a comparatively lowly South Jersey township committeeman.

    Voorhees Township Deputy Mayor Jason Ravitz is the caught-on-tape star of a 2017 incident that occurred, geographically speaking, in a township tavern located about halfway between the municipal building and the Evesham Road ShopRite in neighboring Cherry Hill, one of five supermarkets owned by Ravitz's family.

    First released last week on the political website New Jersey Globe, the tape shows Ravitz mixing it up physically with a bouncer and manager at Ott's Voorhees Tavern, an incident that the councilman says stemmed from anti-Semetic and racist remarks aimed at him and two black friends by other bar customers.

    In yelling "hate crime" numerous times, councilman portrays himself as standing up for civil and religious rights, which is fine, but no justification for an elected  official to inject himself into a bar fight. The problem here -- as it was in earlier situations -- is how the official acted once police showed up.

    Having been ejected from the bar, the tape shows Ravitz outside challenging one of a pair of responding Voorhees police officers, adding pointedly, "It'll be interesting, the guy who promoted you is (expletive); you're gonna charge him." The committeeman also repeatedly tells one officer, who is apparently African-American, that he must side with Ravitz because of the racial slurs that were allegedly uttered by the other patrons. (There is no audio of the words exchanged inside among Ravitz, his friends, and the other customers.) 

    The deputy mayor also asks the officers to turn off their body cameras, insinuating that a recording was being made solely to embarrass the official. 

    More about Ravitz later, but give the officers their due for repeatedly stating that he would be neither targeted nor given preferential treatment. This kind of incident always puts cops under tremendous pressure, and they handled this in an exemplary way.

    This is where we'd normally demand Ravitz's resignation from office, just as we did when former Assemblyman Nelson Albano of Cumberland County threw his weight around in 2012 by targeting for investigation a state trooper who had issued him a speeding ticket. 

    Former Assemblywoman Maria Rodriguez-Gregg had already given up her 2017 re-election bid when it was revealed how she acted abusively toward Burlington County officers who had stopped and tried to search her car. Rodriguez-Gregg later disclosed that she was a domestic violence victim, an extenuating circumstance that does not fully excuse her behavior.

    Ravitz gets a pass on an immediate resignation demand because some issues surrounding the incident are fuzzy. First, it's not clear that he committed any crime beyond some possible he-said-he-said disorderly conduct. Second, the tape released by the New Jersey Globe shows the bar manager and bouncer as initiating most of the physical contact. If there is more audio and video of what happened inside the bar, it should be made public.

    If Ravitz wins re-election in November (he's running, and questions the timing of the year-old tape's release), he needs to recuse himself from any matter involving police promotions, hiring or compensation. He's a hair away from being another odious example of abhorrent entitlement, and a cautionary tale for any elected official who ever considers treating law enforcement personnel the same way.

    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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    Dogs and cats throughout New Jersey await adoption.

    Canines and their owners are invited to Roosevelt Park in Edison on Oct. 7 from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the fourth annual DogFest New Jersey benefiting Canine Companions for Independence.

    dogfest.jpgDogFest New Jersey takes place on Oct. 7 at Roosevelt Park in Edison. 

    DogsFest will include speakers, dog demonstrations, music, food and more. The annual event raises funds for Canine Companions for Independence, a nonprofit provider of trained assistance dogs with six regional training centers across the country.

    Established in 1975, Canine Companions provides "highly trained assistance dogs to children and adults with disabilities and is recognized worldwide for the excellence of its dogs, and quality and longevity of the matches it makes between dogs and people." There is no charge for the dog, its training and on-going follow-up services. For more information, visit cci.org or call 1-800-572-2275.

    Individuals who raise at least $250 will receive a special DogFest gift. Information on DogFest New Jersey and fundraising for Canine Companions is available by going to support.cci.org/site/TR?fr_id=1610&pg=entry.

    Roosevelt Park is located on Roosevelt Drive.

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


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    A third team takes over the top spot in rankings, while No. 5 falls again


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    She was last seen at her Camden home on Sunday

    The whereabouts of a 14-year-old Camden girl who went missing on Sunday remain unknown Monday morning, police said. 

    missing-camden-girl.jpgYuneiry Espinal (Camden County Police) 

    Yuneiry Espinal left her home on the 400 block of Beideman Avenue and hasn't been seen since, according to Camden County police. 

    She was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and blue shorts. Yuneiry is 5-foot-2 and weighs about 100 pounds. 

    Anyone with information is asked to call the department's tip line at 856-757-7042.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at jeff_goldman@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

     


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    These are the 20 biggest questions surrounding boys soccer in New Jersey.


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    See the 28 biggest games in N.J. boys soccer this week.


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    The best matchups of the fifth week of the season


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    A couple of upsets this week have changed the statewide landscape.


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    Proposed projects range from new roofs to renovated gymnasiums, but no new schools. State taxpayers could reimburse the districts more than $100 million, depending on the votes.


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    Three players from each of N.J.'s six conferences.


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    The best players and keepers in N.J. boys soccer this week.


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