East Brunswick to hold vigil for Parkland, school shooting victims

Christopher Lang, Correspondent, @topherlang2, Feb. 23 | MonroeNow

The East Brunswick Township will host a vigil to honor the victims of the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla., as well as other victims of such tragedies.

The community-backed vigil, called “Beyond Thoughts and Prayers: The #NeverAgain Vigil,” will take place on the East Brunswick High School football field on Sunday.

“I think this is a good idea, and I like the idea that it is primarily driven by students,” said East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen on Friday.

On Valentine’s Day, 17 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and staff were gunned by a former student armed with an assault rifle. The horrific event has sparked a nationwide movement for gun control again, but this time leading voices in the debate are students, galvanized by their peers who survived the Parkland shooting.

East Brunswick Public Schools Superintendent Victor Valeski said the vigil, pushed by a newly-formed local group called East Brunswick for Safe Schools, will start that conversation to finding solutions to bring reform to gun control laws, and remember those who were killed.

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“The intent for us is to first acknowledge the 17 victims of the [Parkland] tragedy and other victims,” Valeski said Friday, “and for us to begin to have discussions and to begin to do something.”

Valeski said he was “sickend” when he heard the news that there had been another mass shooting at a school.

“For me personally, I’m just sick to death hearing that’s there been another school shooting” Valeski said. “When you send your children to school, … you expect them to come home that day.”

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But, seeing his East Brunswick students joining the debate for gun control along with efforts from others across the country and Parkland teens, gives him hope that this time something will change.

“These are going to be the future leaders,” he said, adding that some of the students will hold public office and likely will not forget what happened on Feb. 14. “I don’t think they [Parkland students] will go away … they will carry it through. I think that this [incident] might be the catalysts that is necessary.”

The vigil will have speakers, including students, legislators, community members, Cohen and Valeski.

“They [the students] need to get their voices heard for those who can’t speak,” Cohen said.

As the community takes steps to advocate for gun control reforms, officials have also decided in the wake of the Parkland shooting to add additional security at it schools.

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After President’s Day, off-duty East Brunswick police began security details at the public schools. By March. 26, the plan will be fully implemented, Valeski said.

The policy to add armed security personal to the schools, in support of the non-armed guards has been in the works for two years.

After the Parkland shooting, the district, with the Township officials and the Police Department quickly put the plan into motion, after approved by the Board of Education.

Armed guards has become a growing movement in the area. Several districts have had conversations about the method. This week, Monroe Township and the Board of Education agreed to use off-duty police officers as armed security guards.

“Things have changed over the years. Our airport security has tightened. There is the horrific shooting in Florida, Sandy Hook [Newtown, Conn.], … going all the way back to Columbine [Colorado] has provided the impetus to provide more security,” Monroe Township Public School Superintendent Michael Kozak said on Thursday. “[Security] has been evolving over the years, and we want to protect our students and staff as best as possible.”

The off-duty Monroe officers will start their assignments next week. The district will use the Police Department’s off-duty officers for approximately two months. Ideally, by that time the district’s internal security staff will be in the position to carry a gun and the necessary policy adjustments are approved.

“These kids, for some reason, are gravitating to this issue,” said Cohen, “… and maybe they can move the pendulum more than we can.”