In Camden, a rally for student injured in shooting

Posted: June 01, 2014

As dancers in white gracefully twirled across the Camden stage Friday to a song about prayer and hope, Nicole Riley wept quietly for her son, a dancer and classmate of the performers who was shot and injured in late April.

Matthew Riley, 18, was walking home from school around 3:20 p.m. April 28 when he was shot once in the face and then at least three more times, authorities said. He was on his way to pick up a tuxedo for the prom, his mother said, when a fight broke out at the intersection of Eighth Street and Morgan Boulevard.

Incredibly, Riley survived and is recovering at Cooper Medical Center. A 17-year-old has been arrested and charged in the shooting.

On Friday, friends, teachers, and family gathered at the Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, where Riley is a senior, to hold a morning peace walk and tribute assembly to call for an end to the persistent tragedy in one of the country's most violent cities.

"He's fighting - he gets a little bit better every day," Nicole Riley said of her son during the peace walk, in which students chanted, "We stand for peace," and held rest-in-peace posters for friends who have been killed. Riley was shot less than a week after 15-year-old Troy Anderson was fatally gunned down in Camden. Sources say the shootings were related.

Friday's assembly included poetry, dance, vocal performances, and words from community members and clergy. Principal Davida Coe-Brockington urged students, who signed a peace pledge at the close of the assembly, "not to forget what we're here for today."

Superintendent Paymon Rouhanifard shared his own experience with tragedy growing up in Iran. One uncle was imprisoned and tortured, another was shot in the head in his own home by members of the government.

"As you honor Matthew and other students who are affected by violence in this community, I'm here to honor you and the way you stood up today," Rouhanifard said.

"I remember when I was your age, I wrote a letter to the United Nations, urging [them] to promote peace in Iran, so I appreciate what you're all doing here and I think it shows a lot of courage because in times like this, it's easy to get closed off, to shut down, and you're doing the opposite of this, you're rallying for peace, and that's remarkable."

At the close of the assembly, student organizers Elexus Morton and D'Angela Gilbert Russo presented Riley with flowers. Riley then addressed the crowd.

She said that her son had just regained the ability to speak this week after mouth surgery and that his first words were, "Mom, can we still have the party?"

The graduation party will go on as planned, she said, adding that she'd see everyone at graduation.

856-779-3876 @juliaterruso

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