Community rallies to help injured boy

Jorge Cartagena, 9, who was blinded in a shooting between two drug dealers, jokes with classmates in the cafeteria at Bank Bridge Elementary School. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Jorge Cartagena, 9, who was blinded in a shooting between two drug dealers, jokes with classmates in the cafeteria at Bank Bridge Elementary School. APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer
Posted: April 14, 2012

In a city where there is seldom any good news, the story of Camden youngster Jorge Cartagena is a refreshing story of good triumphing over evil.

Last June, Jorge, 9, was caught in the cross fire between two drug dealers. He was shot in the face and callously left on a city sidewalk. After spending months in the hospital, he woke up from a coma blind. His alleged assailant was arrested shortly after the shooting that forever changed a young boy’s life.

Jorge could easily be a poster child for senseless violence in Camden, ranked one of the most dangerous cities in the country. He was among more than 100 people shot in Camden last year.

But he also could be a symbol of hope and a resilient spirit in a community that has rallied around the youngster and his grandmother Manuela Pintor, who has raised him since infancy.

Spearheaded by the Heart of Camden, a nonprofit that has been working to rebuild Camden, residents and groups such as Jon Bon Jovi’s Soul Foundation banded together to help Jorge and his family.

They held a benefit gala and raised nearly $200,000 to purchase and renovate an abandoned townhome in Camden’s Waterfront South neighborhood. Pintor will make monthly payments to eventually own the three-bedroom home.

This week, Jorge and his family cut the ribbon on that home. They hope to move in this weekend, leaving behind their cramped apartment in the dangerous neighborhood in East Camden where Jorge was shot.

Jorge has been embraced not only by the city, but also by complete strangers who have been inspired by his courage. He attends weekly karate lessons in Sewell, transported by a single mother who was drawn by his story. The martial arts school owner gives him free instruction.

Camden Police Chief Scott Thomson mentors Jorge and has agreed to be his godfather. He talks with the boy several times a day and includes Jorge in family events. Mayor Dana Redd and activist Helene Pierson have also promised to help nurture Jorge.

The experience has been a spiritual journey for the boy who declared after he was shot, “God hates me.” Jorge, who turns 10 next week, now attends Mass regularly at Sacred Heart Church and he expects to be baptized in a few months.

Once a kid falling through the cracks with no safety net, Jorge no longer has behavior problems at school. In fact, he is described by his principal as one of the happiest students at Bank Bridge Elementary, a special-needs school in Gloucester County.

Hilary Katz, a school social worker, best summed up the aftermath of Jorge’s tragic ordeal:

“It’s been a blessing in disguise.”

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