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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    The 16-year-old is charged with the killings of his parents, sister and a family friend with a semi-automatic rifle on New Year's Eve

    For those who know the Kologi family, the tragic events of New Year's Eve are beyond baffling.

    Steven and Linda Kologi, their 18-year-old daughter Brittany, and a 70-year-old family friend were gunned down in a Long Branch home shortly before midnight. The Kologis' 16-year-old son now stands accused of the killings.

    No motive has been revealed by authorities. Friends and neighbors were at a loss for answers Monday.

    "I just can't understand why," said family friend Veronica Mass, 69, of Union Beach. "What happened? I just have no idea."

    The teen, who faces a court hearing Tuesday on the charges, has not been named by authorities because he is a juvenile. Prosecutors said Monday they intended to seek that he be tried as an adult. He is being held at the Middlesex Youth Detention Facility.

    The 16-year-old's brother and grandfather were also inside the home, a multifamily house on the 600 block of Wall Street, but were able to escape unharmed, officials said. 

    A 911 call reporting the shooting was made at 11:43 p.m. from inside the home. The teen's parents, Steven, 44, and Linda Kologi, 42, his sister Brittany Kologi, 18, and family friend, Mary Schultz, 70, of Ocean Township, were pronounced dead at the scene.

    Police said there was no history of violence at the home. The Century Arms semi-automatic rifle used in the killings was legally obtained and owned by a resident of the house.

    Mass said she was "stunned" when she heard the news of the shooting. Linda Kologi and Mass' daughter were close friends growing up together in Jersey City.

    "They were a close-knit family," Mass said. "No drugs, no alcohol."

    Mass said the 16-year-old was home-schooled since fourth or fifth grade because he had emotional problems. Other kids made fun of him, and he wasn't keeping up academically, she said, adding that a teacher told his mother he was learning disabled.

    "He improved dramatically after being home-schooled," Mass said. "He learned to read, did his math. He got up to where he was supposed to be."

    Socially she said he was "outgoing, very friendly. He would tell jokes."

    Mass was also surprised to learn there was a gun in the home.

    "Big Steve, he did not like any guns in the house," she said. "If they owned a gun, I had no knowledge of it."

    Mass said Linda's sister and her husband live in another unit of the multifamily home, and were home when the shooting happened.

    Jalen Walls, a neighbor who went to high school with Brittany Kologi, also said her brother required special assistance and was cared for by his mother. 

    "But he was fully functional and comprehended what we were saying," said Walls, 18.

    Brittany Kologi was a freshman at Stockton University and was studying health sciences.

    "We are shocked and saddened by the reports of the death of freshman Brittany Kologi under such tragic circumstances," the school said in a statement, adding that counseling is available for her friends and classmates at Stockton.

    An online fundraiser has raised more than $13,000 to cover the family's funeral expenses. 

    Staff writers Allison Pries and Erin Banco contributed to this story.

    Jessica Remo may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @JessicaRemoNJ. Find on Facebook.


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    A candlelight vigil for the family is planned for Wednesday evening

    The son of a Long Branch couple killed in a New Year's Eve slaying that also left his sister and a family friend dead posted a heartfelt message Monday evening mourning their loss.

    "My New Year's resolution is to be as great of a parent as my parents were to me," Steven Kologi wrote on Instagram. "They were the greatest parents I could ask for."

    His parents Steven and Linda Kologi, his 18-year-old sister Brittany, and a family friend Mary Schultz were shot to death late Sunday with a semi-automatic rifle. The Kologi's 16-year-old son has been charged with murder and faces a family court hearing Tuesday.

    The teen's name has not been released because he is a juvenile and no motive has been provided for the killing.

    Steven Kologi focused his first statement on his parent's death on his memories of his parents and sister, who was a freshman student at Stockton University.

    "Never once was I without a hot meal or a roof over my head," Kologi said. "They made sure Christmas came every year even though they struggled financially. I cannot even describe the type of people they were so just believe me when I say how great they were."

    His sister Brittany was "beautiful and smart," Kologi wrote. She was studying health sciences.

    "She was on the process to being great with whatever she chose," her brother wrote. "I just wish I could tell all of them how much they meant to me and how much I truly loved each and every one of them because I didn't do that enough. Please, please remember to give the ones you love an extra kiss or I love you."

    A candlelight vigil is being organized for the Kologis at 6 p.m. Tuesday at Franklin Lake Park in West Long Branch.

    GoFundMe account has been established to help cover the family's funeral expenses.

    The 16-year-old's court hearing on Tuesday will be closed to the public because it is being heard in family court. The Monmouth County Prosecutor has said, however, he plans to pursue the case in adult court.

    In addition to four murder charges, the teen faces weapons offenses. The Century Arms semi-automatic rifle was recovered from the home on the 600 block of Wall Street shortly after the teen surrendered, prosecutors have said.

    The teen's brother and grandfather were also home at the time of the shooting, but were able to escape unharmed, prosecutors said.

    Family friends have described the teen as having special needs that led him to be home schooled by Linda Kologi. The nature of his special needs was not clear.

    Staff Writer Erin Banco contributed to this report. 

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook

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    A 16-year-old boy is charged with killing his parents, sister and a family friend

    A GoFundMe campaign to cover the funeral expenses of Long Branch family members killed in a quadruple slaying on New Year's Eve has raised more than $22,000 in less than a day. 

    The youngest member of the family, a 16-year-old boy, has been arrested and charged with murder. The teen is accused of fatally shooting his parents, 18-year-old sister and a family friend with a semi-automatic gun. He has not been named by officials because he is a juvenile. 

    A page created by family friend Brian Yunker, of West Long Branch, has brought in $22,795 as off 11 a.m. Tuesday. Since being launched on Monday, the fundraiser has received 485 donations with an initial goal of $20,000. 

    The parents, Steven Kologi and Linda Kologi, were shot and killed along with their 18-year-old daughter Brittany Kologi and family friend Mary Schultz a few minutes before midnight at their home on the 600 block of Wall Street, authorities said. 

    "Linda, Steven, and Brittany were all beautiful people with the kindest hearts you could imagine," Yunker wrote. "All donations will go directly to a proper burial.  Thank you all for the support."

    The couple's oldest son, also named Steven Kologi wrote on Instagram Monday that his parents were "great people" and that Brittany was "beautiful and smart."

    The Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office has not provided a motive for the shooting. 

    The 16-year-old was due in family court on Tuesday morning to face the murder charges.

    Funeral services have not been announced for the Kologis or Schultz. A vigil has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Franklin Lake Park in West Long Branch.

    Jeff Goldman may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @JeffSGoldman. Find on Facebook. 

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    Forecasters say travel conditions could get bad with blowing and drifting snow on Thursday. Watch video

    The National Weather Service has issued a winter storm watch for five New Jersey counties in advance of a strong storm system that could drop up to a half-foot of snow on parts of the region.

    The watch is effective from 9 p.m. Wednesday through 7 p.m. Thursday in Atlantic, Cape May, Monmouth and Ocean counties, along with the southeastern area of Burlington County.

    Forecasters say 4 to 6 inches of snow could blanket the eastern and southern sections of the Garden State as a coastal storm moves up the Atlantic and intensifies on Thursday as it heads toward Cape Cod.

    winter-storm-watch-jan2.jpgAreas shaded in blue are under a winter storm watch from Wednesday night through Thursday night. (National Weather Service)  

    During the past two days, computer guidance models have been very inconsistent on the storm's likely track. Forecasters say if the storm system tracks far offshore, the storm will produce only small amounts of snow in New Jersey and New York City. However, if the storm tracks closer to the Atlantic coast, it has the potential to dump as much as 10 to 12 inches of snow over our region.

    "There's still a potential for both (scenarios) -- an offshore track and a track closer to the coast," said Mitchell Gaines, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's regional forecast office in Burlington County. But the more likely scenario, he said, is the one that calls for lower snow amounts.

    The National Weather Service is currently calling for less than 1 inch of snow in Sussex and Warren counties, only 1 to 2 inches in Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, and Union counties, and 2 to 3 inches in Mercer, Middlesex and interior sections of South Jersey.

    In addition to the potentially heavy snow in the winter storm watch area, strong winds are expected and that could cause "considerable blowing and drifting snow," the weather service said in its storm watch. "Significant reductions in visibility are possible."

    snow-forecast-jan2-12pm.jpgHere's the National Weather Service's latest snowfall forecast, updated at noon on Tuesday, for most of New Jersey from Wednesday night through Thursday night. Snowfall projections for northeastern sections of New Jersey and New York City are in the map below. (National Weather Service)  
    snow-forecast-ny-jan2-10am.jpgSnowfall projections for Bergen, Essex, Hudson, Passaic and Union counties in New Jersey, along with New York City, Long Island and southern Connecticut. (National Weather Service) 

    Len Melisurgo may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @LensReality or like him on Facebook. Find on Facebook.


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    A 16-year-old boy is charged with four counts of murder and weapons offenses Watch video

    UPDATE: 'A ray of sunshine': Vigil honors slain family


    The Long Branch teenager who allegedly killed his parents, sister and a family friend on New Year's Eve opened fire "at close range" using a semi-automatic rifle containing 15 bullets, prosecutors said Tuesday.

    Law enforcement officials also revealed a third person - a woman in her 20s - fled the house when the shots began, along with the teen's grandfather and brother.

    The 16-year-old alleged shooter, whose name is being withheld, is expected to make his first appearance in court at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said during a press conference.

    "This is a heartbreaking family tragedy," said Gramiccioni, who did not reveal any possible motive for the shooting. 

    17c_lindastevenbrittney.jpgLinda and Steven Kologi, at left, and their 18-year-old daughter, Brittany Kologi, were shot and killed on New Year's Eve in their home in Long Branch along with a 70-year-old family friend Mary Schultz. The Kologi's 16-year-old son has been charged in the four killings. (GoFundMe)

    The teen's court appearance was delayed Tuesday after The Asbury Park Press and NJ Advance Media filed a motion seeking access to the hearing, which is being held in family court because of the teenager's age. A spokesman for the prosecutor's office Tuesday evening said the judge denied the application for access. 

    Prosecutors are seeking to waive the case up to adult court and said they expect a judge's decision within 60 days. 

    Gramiccioni said the woman in her early 20s escaped with the shooter's grandfather and brother as they heard the shots from  a Century Arms semi-automatic rifle.

    The teenager's parents, Steven Kologi and Linda Kologi, were gunned down, along with their 18-year-old daughter Brittany Kologi and family friend Mary Schultz, 70, around 11:45 p.m., prosecutors said.

    Gramiccioni said he did not believe there was any time for family members to try to convince the teenager not to shoot.

    "We think this was fairly sudden and quick," Gramiccioni said. 

    The gun was loaded with 15 7.62mm rounds at the time of the shooting and was legally owned by a resident of the multi-family house on the 600 block of Wall Street, Gramiccioni said. He declined to say whether the teenager shot all 15 rounds. 

    Each person who died suffered from multiple gunshot wounds, and prosecutors were not considering filing charges against the gun's owner, Gramiccioni said. 

    He said there was no indication any financial problems of the family played a role in the killings. 

    The 16-year-old is charged with four counts of murder and weapons offenses. He is being held at the Middlesex County Youth Detention Center and is represented by a public defender.

    Gramiccioni said the family members were in different rooms at the time of the shooting. 

    Schultz lived in Ocean Township and had a "close family relationship" with the 16-year-old's grandfather, Gramiccioni said. 

    Family friends have described the teen as having special needs. Gramiccioni said he could not comment on the teenager's mental status. 

    The 16-year-old attended a school, Gramiccioni said, but he declined to identify the school. 

    "A quadruple homicide investigation, this is the first that I've seen or heard of it and certainly the first that I've participated in as prosecutor in this county," Gramiccioni said. 

    The Kologis' oldest son, also named Steven Kologi, wrote on Instagram Monday that his parents were "great people" and that Brittany was "beautiful and smart."

    A GoFundMe page established by a family friend to cover funeral expenses has already raised more than its goal of $20,000.

    "Linda, Steven, and Brittany were all beautiful people with the kindest hearts you could imagine," Brian Yunker, of West Long Branch, wrote on the page. "All donations will go directly to a proper burial. Thank you all for the support."

    Brittany Kologi, 18, had recently finished her first semester as a freshman at Stockton University, where she was a heath sciences student and lived on campus, according to the school.

    "We are shocked and saddened by the reports of the death of freshman Brittany Kologi under such tragic circumstances," the school said in a statement, adding that counseling staff are available for her friends and classmates at Stockton.

    Funeral services have not been announced. A vigil has been scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday at Franklin Lake Park in West Long Branch.

    Staff reporter Kelly Heyboer contributed to this report.

    Marisa Iati may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find on Facebook

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    Will this big coastal storm prove a minor nuisance or blockbuster snowstorm for N.J.?

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    Hundreds of mourners gathered in Long Branch Tuesday night to remember the four victims. Watch video

    Hundreds of mourners huddled in below-freezing temperatures in Franklin Lake Park in West Long Branch Tuesday evening to honor the memory of four victims in a New Year's Eve slaying.

    The candlelight vigil, which started shortly after 6 p.m., featured speakers who were mostly friends of 18-year-old Brittany Kologi, who authorities say was shot and killed minutes before midnight on New Year's Eve at her home on Wall Street, along with her parents, Steven and Linda Kologi, and a family friend, Mary Schulz.

    "I'd do anything for Brittany and she needed this (vigil)," said her friend, Shannon Nutley, one of the chief organizers of the vigil.

    Members of the Kologi and Schulz family huddled behind the gazebo, embracing one other, as friends and community members gathered in the front, shedding tears as they exchanged memories with one another.

    Janiyah Gilliard was one of Brittany Kologi's best friends since third grade. She said Kologi was "very energetic, artsy and always smiled." Kologi also had a love for cats, especially her cat, Jill.

    Gilliard said the last time she communicated with Kologi was on New Year's Eve through Snapchat, a social media app that allows people to share images. Kologi sent Gilliard a picture of her lying with her cat at 11:40 p.m.

    Three minutes later, authorities say she was shot by her 16-year-old brother, who is currently in custody in a youth detention facility and facing four counts of murder. He will have his first appearance in court on Wednesday. The appearance is closed to media because he is a minor, and authorities have not yet identified him.

    "I love her and I'm thankful for everything she helped me through," Gilliard said. "I wouldn't be the person I am today without her."

    That sentiment was echoed by Kayla Garrabrant, another friend of Brittany Kologi.

    "She was such a ray of sunshine, she was just like her mom," Garrabrant said. "She always made me smile and she was always there for me."

    Garrabrant said Linda Kologi was always joking, warning her to never pay for items at full price. The quip from Garrabrant received a burst of laughter from the crowd.

    "They were just such amazing, caring people," Garrabrant said of the Kologi family.

    Ginna Carlesimo said she went to prom with Brittany Kologi in eighth grade because no other guys had asked her.

    "(For) prom I was like, '...we can't eat all that much because we have to fit into our dresses,'" Carlesimo explained, laughing. "And she just didn't care and we, with another friend, ate an entire box of pizza and then we got in our dresses and her mom drove us to prom. She was funny like that."

    At the end of the hour-long vigil, a woman representing the Schulz family led the crowd in a singing of "God Bless America." At the end of the song, a member of the Schulz family thanked the crowd and applauded the Long Branch community for its support.

    "This is a very strong showing for Long Branch," he said. "Do a good deed for someone else in memory of the family."

    NJ Advance Media photographer Aristide Economopoulos contributed to this report. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

    Erin Banco may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @ErinBanco. Find on Facebook.

    0 0 releases the first 10 wrestlers in its 2018 pound-for-Pound wrestler rankings on its way to a statewide Top 50

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    Police are continuing to search for another man for questioning in the incident.

    The 27-year-old man stabbed to death in Asbury Park on New Year's Eve has been identified as law enforcement continues to look for another man for questioning in the killing.

    Raymundo Merino-Ruiz, of Asbury Park, was fatally stabbed around 11 p.m. at an apartment on Sewell Avenue, the same street where Merino-Ruiz lived.

    Merino-Ruiz was taken to Jersey Shore University Medical Center and pronounced dead about 30 minutes later, according to the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office.

    Authorities are continuing to look for Fabian Vazquez-Quiroz for questioning in the stabbing. Officials have emphasized that Vazquez-Quiroz is only wanted for questioning and that no charges are pending.

    Fabian Vazquez-QuirozPolice are seeking Fabian Vazquez-Quiroz for questioning after a fatal stabbing in Asbury Park on New Year's Eve, though no charges have been filed. 

    Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Patrick Petruzziello of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office at 800-533-7443 or Detective Sgt. Daniel Kowsaluk of the Asbury Park Police Department at 732-774-1300.

    Information may be shared anonymously by calling the Monmouth County Crime Stoppers confidential telephone tip-line, 1-800-671-4400; texting "MONMOUTH" plus their tip to 274637; or, emailing a tip via the website at

    Spencer Kent may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @SpencerMKent. Find the Find on Facebook.

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    The former mayor was once the police chief and the borough administrator in Tinton Falls Watch video

    TINTON FALLS -- A 93-year-old World War II veteran is the new leader of New Jersey town.

    Vito Perillo was sworn in Tuesday night as mayor of Tinton Falls. The Republican had won the seat in November when he upset an incumbent who was seeking a second term in the nonpartisan municipal race.

    Perillo has said he didn't think he had a chance of winning. He wore out two pairs of shoes campaigning door-to-door.

    The U.S. Navy veteran decided to run following a pair of whistleblower lawsuits involving the police department that cost the borough a reported $1.1 million in settlements. Gerald Turning, who Perillo defeated in the election, was the borough police chief from 2004 to 2011 and was also the borough administrator from 2010 to 2014.

    Vet Sworn InWorld War II veteran Vito Perillo, center, is sworn in as mayor of Tinton Falls on Wednesday by state Sen. Vin Gopal (D-11), left. (Noah K. Murray /The Asbury Park Press via AP) 

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    Hackensack Meridian now encompasses 12 acute care hospitals in six counties, from Bergen County to the shore in Ocean County.

    Hackensack Meridian Health Wednesday announced it now owns JFK Medical Center in Edison, a deal that creates the largest hospital chain in New Jersey.

    In what has become a race to amass the most sprawling health care network in the state, Hackensack Meridian now owns 12 acute care hospitals from Bergen to Ocean counties. It employs a staff of 33,000 and 6,500 doctors, and maintains 4,520 in-patient beds, which include children's and specialty hospitals.

    The deal dethrones RWJ Barnabas Health, owner of 11 full-service hospitals valued at $5.4 billion, as the largest hospital and health care provider in the state. Robert Wood Johnson University Health and Barnabas Health merged in 2016.

    Hackensack Meridian and JFK executives emphatically said the winners in this turf war are their patients. More people will benefit from JFK's nationally recognized neurological care and rehabilitation services. JFK's patient base will have a larger network of outpatient, home care, and other patient care options to choose from -- 160 locations in all.

    "In a rapidly changing health care environment, this merger strengthens and aligns our services to maximize options for everyone, from newborns to our geriatric population," JFK President and CEO Raymond Fredericks said.  

    Hackensack Meridian also announced Wednesday it will spend $12 million to expand JFK's cardiac catheterization lab, where artery-clearing angioplasty procedures are performed.

    Hospital merger-mania in N.J.

    "JFK is already an outstanding provider of cardiac services in central New Jersey and with this investment, we will not only maintain but expand this leadership role in serving the region," Robert C. Garrett, co-CEO of Hackensack Meridian said in a statement.

    Hackensack Meridian and JFK announced they were exploring a merger in November 2016, and in May, confirmed a deal had been reached pending government approvals. Hospital executive said Wednesday that regulators had signed off, allowing the deal to be completed.

    JFK, a 50-year-old 499-bed hospital located in Edison, assures its future by assimilating into the Hackensack Meridian network, with its vast bargaining power with insurers and protection from market instability.  There are 72 acute-care hospitals in New Jersey but only about a dozen are independently operated. 

    Academic studies on mergers say patients and communities do not always come out ahead.

    An often-cited Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study in 2012, found "Hospital consolidation generally results in higher prices." But mergers can improve the quality of care if patients are given a choice over which hospital they use, and competition remains strong, according to the study.

    In addition to JFK, Hackensack Meridian hospitals include:

    Hackensack University Medical Center;

    Jersey Shore University Medical Center, Neptune;

    Ocean Medical Center, Brick;

    Riverview Medical Center, Red Bank;

    Southern Ocean Medical Center, Manahawkin;

    Bayshore Community Hospital, Holmdel;

    Mountainside Medical Center in Montclair;

    Pascack Valley Medical Center in Westwood;

    Raritan Bay Medical Center in Old Bridge and Perth Amboy;

    Palisades Medical Center in North Bergen.

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


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    Mary Shulz was one of four people authorities say were killed by a Long Branch 16-year-old on New Year's Eve

    The 70-year-old woman whom authorities say was among four people killed by a Long Branch teenager on New Year's Eve was a "life-long companion and soulmate" to the teenager's grandfather, according to her obituary. 

    Mary Ann Schulz was celebrating the new year with the grandfather, Adrian Kologi, and his family when Kologi's 16-year-old grandson allegedly shot his parents, his sister and Schulz with a semi-automatic rifle containing 15 bullets, authorities have said. 

    The teenager's grandfather, brother and a female family friend in her 20s escaped the gunfire that prosecutors say broke out at the multifamily home on Wall Street around 11:45 p.m. 

    wake for Schulz will take place Friday from 4 to 7:30 p.m. at the Woolley-Boglioli Funeral Home on Morrell Street in Long Branch. A funeral will happen Saturday at 11 a.m. at Saint Jerome Church on Wall Street in West Long Branch. 

    MaryAnnSchulz.jpgMary Ann Schulz. (Courtesy Woolley-Boglioli Funeral Home)

    Schulz was born in Long Branch and retired in 2010 from her job as a human resource specialist with Middletown-based T&M Engineering, her obituary says. She graduated from Red Bank Catholic High School and Manor Junior College in Pennsylvania. 

    She was an actress with "Murder on Cue," a murder mystery dinner theater, and performed as the stone-faced housekeeper, it says. Schulz also played the head juror in a movie called "Deathrow" that was filmed in Oceanport, the obituary says. 

    Schulz was the "family historian" who served on the executive board for the Monmouth County Genealogy Society, co-founded that society's African-American Special Interest Group and worked on local cemetery restoration projects, the obituary says. 

    "She had a warm presence, generous spirit, and her smile lit up the room," according to her obituary, which was penned by her family members. 

    In Facebook posts about Schulz, friends say she was a longtime actress with the Center Drama community theatre group, and appeared in many of its shows.

    "She was a good friend who will be missed," one post on the group's Facebook page says. Another friend paying tribute on Facebook wrote of Schulz, "a warmer funnier person you never met...A lovely woman who certainly did not deserve to go out this way. I'm sick over this."

    The 16-year-old alleged shooter, whose name authorities are withholding, was scheduled to make his first appearance in court Wednesday morning on four murder charges and weapons offenses. The appearance was closed to media and the public because the defendant in a juvenile. 

    Prosecutors are seeking to waive up the 16-year-old's case to adult court and said they expect a decision from a judge within 60 days.

    They have not offered a possible motive for the shooting that killed Schulz, Steven and Linda Kologi, and their 18-year-old daughter Brittany Kologi. 

    Family friends have said the 16-year-old alleged shooter had special needs. Prosecutors have declined to comment on his mental status. 

    The semi-automatic rifle was legally purchased by a resident of the Kologis' home, and prosecutors said they are not considering filing charges against the gun's owner. 

    Hundreds of people gathered at Franklin Lake Park in West Long Branch on Tuesday evening for a candlelight vigil in honor of the four people killed. Schulz leaves behind eight siblings, as well as many other nieces, nephews, and other family members, her obituary says.

    Funeral services have not yet been announced for any of the Kologis. 

    Marisa Iati may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Iati or on Facebook here. Find on Facebook

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    Recordings of police interviews with the man accused of killing Sarah Stern were played during a court hearing.

    In the days after Sarah Stern's car was found on the Route 35 bridge in Belmar early on Dec. 3, 2016, police approached the man they believed was the last to see her before she went missing.

    Liam McAtasney calmly told officers that he was with his childhood friend Stern, 19, on the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2016, but didn't know her whereabouts. He then offered multiple reasons why she could be missing and suggested she might be in Canada.

    "She's always wanting to go to Canada. She's always been obsessed with Canada," McAtasney told officers in a recorded interview with police. "She has friends up there, and if she went up there, she would have roommates," he explained to police in a separate interview. 

    McAtasney, 20, would go on to tell detectives in a taped interview that Stern had previously attempted to commit suicide on her 16th birthday, needed to escape an allegedly tumultuous relationship with her father and that she was a lesbian who feared her family wouldn't accept her if she was open about it. 

    These were all reason, McAtasney offered, Stern could have fled her tight-knight community at the Jersey Shore for a life elsewhere.  

    The taped interviews with police were shown in court Wednesday as McAtasney, now charged with killing Stern during a robbery and dumping her body off the bridge in Belmar, seeks to have the videos barred from his murder trial.

    The interviews with police shown in court Wednesday reveal for the first time what authorities would later say was McAtasney's attempts to thwart investigators from suspecting him as the person responsible for Stern's disappearance. 

    Officers called to testify Wednesday about the interviews with McAtasney repeatedly said he wasn't a suspect when they spoke to him. Still, McAtasney's parents would hire an attorney for him as he was speaking to police Dec. 5, 2016, at the Belmar Police Department. 

    Although Stern was never seen after her time with McAtasney on Dec. 2, 2016, he told detectives she never said a word about where she could have gone. 

    "I'm one of her closest friends and I don't know why she wouldn't tell me anything before she left," McAtasney told detectives.  

    But, according to authorities, McAtasney strangled Stern at her Neptune City home while stealing thousands and then enlisted his friend and roommate Preston Taylor, 20, to help throw her body of the bridge and plant the car nearby, authorities have said.

    Taylor, who took Stern to junior prom, has admitted to his role in the coverup and agreed to testify against McAtasney. Stern's body was never recovered.

    A year later, Sarah Stern's dad reflects on loss

    In the afternoon on Dec. 2, 2016, McAtasney told police he went with Stern to the Taco Bell in Neptune and then back to her home to eat before he left for work at a nearby restaurant, according to the recorded interview. They ate together at her kitchen table before going to her bedroom to play video games, McAtasney told detectives. 

    But authorities questioned why McAtasney, in an interview with two detectives, wasn't forthcoming about a trip to Stern's bank prior to their arrival at her home. 

    "You haven't talked to us about the bank. Why didn't you tell us about the bank?" Detective Brian Weisbrot, of the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office, asked McAtasney in the taped interview. 

    He told detectives she needed to deposit anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 she retrieved from a different home she had with her family in Avon-by-the-Sea. The money, McAtasney believed, came from her mother and he suggested she wanted to take it because her father had attempted to take money owed to her in the past. Stern's mother died of cancer when she was younger. 

    Authorities have said Stern had recently come into money from her grandmother and that McAtasney stole $10,000 from her after strangling her. 

    His demeanor during interviews, investigators described, was "calm" and "cooperative." He consented to searches of his cell phone, which was found by members of the Stern family in the driveway outside of their Neptune City home, and nodded his head in agreement when officers asked him to call them if he heard from Stern.

    "We need your help finding her ... and make sure she is safe and OK," an officer explains to McAtasney. "This young girl is off the gird, all of a sudden, and nobody knows why, and you were basically the last person to have contact with her. We're trying to get more of a time frame."

    "I just want to let you guys know," McAtasney responds, "that I'm planning on pursuing a career in law enforcement." 

    McAtasney was arrested and charged with murder months after police located Stern's abandoned car parked on the side of the Route 35 bridge in Belmar, sparking an extensive search.

    Detectives first arrived at McAtasney's home, located behind his family's home on Bradley Street in Neptune City, to speak to him about Stern's disappearance on Dec. 3, 2016.

    Sarah Stern's father, Michael, told a Neptune Township police sergeant that the two "were tight." Michael Stern was in Florida when his only daughter was killed by McAtasney, authorities said. 

    McAtasney told police Stern didn't get along with her father and "I just know she's been trying to get away," according to evidence presented Wednesday.

    In a separate taped interview with police played in court Wednesday, McAtasney told officers that Stern and her father were constantly arguing and that he was concerned she would hit her, though she never said he did. 

    "In the past, she had a tendency to have self-destructive, suicidal behavior ... over stuff her dad did," he told an officer. "Over the past few months she said how bad her relationship with her father is and needs to get out." 

    McAtasney described a story in high school when his girlfriend got a call from Sarah Stern, who just had a fight with her father, according to the interviews.

    She told McAtasney's girlfriend, "if you don't come over here now, I'm going to kill myself," according to McAtasney.

    He also told police she was constantly packing items from her Neptune City home and giving them to neighbors in an attempt to hide these things from her father.

    Just before she went missing, a neighbor told police that Stern had brought over a large bin packed with belongings. When asked about this by police, McAtasney told an officer it was full of rare coins from her grandmother, among other belongings. 

    "I have a few of these in my basement," McAtasney told police, referring to other large bins full of Stern's belongings. "She has been trying to get stuff away from her dad." 

    McAtasney and Taylor remain behind bars in the Monmouth County jail. No trial date has been set for McAtasney. He faces 30 years to life in prison if convicted. 

    Earlier in the court hearing Wednesday, McAtasney's attorney, Charles Moriarty, sought to have the indictment dismissed because he claimed prosecutors didn't present in grand jury information about two witnesses that allegedly saw Stern after her car was found abandoned. 

    Assistant Monmouth County Prosecutor Meghan Doyle said investigators determined the leads were not reliable.

    Moriarty also claimed that his client "made up stories" when he allegedly confessed to a cooperating witness, who was known to produce horror films, that he killed stern. 

    "It was just like Mr. McAtasney to make up stories," he told the judge, adding that he enjoyed acting and always had good ideas. 

    Superior Court Judge Richard English denied the motion to dismiss the indictment.

    Testimony is scheduled to continued Thursday at 10:30 a.m. 

    Alex Napoliello may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @alexnapoNJ. Find on Facebook.

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    A pair of bills set forth by New Jersey legislation could dramatically alter the landscape of high school sports.

    Get ready, New Jersey — a high school “super team” could soon be coming to a district near you.

    A pair of companion bills that critics say could dramatically alter the landscape of high school sports in the Garden State are on the brink of final passage by the state legislature this week and next.

    The bill would allow public high schools in the same district facing low participation numbers, financial constraints or safety concerns — regardless of sport or enrollment size — to merge teams at the varsity level without any oversight or review by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

    The change would instantly give multi-school districts a potential advantage over single-school districts, and potentially shift the balance of power by providing the chance for multi-school districts to build “super teams” comprised of athletes from multiple schools.

    Supporters of the bill say it’s a necessary change during a time when some sports are facing declining participation numbers and districts are facing greater financial constraints.

    NJSIAA member schools typically vote on significant rule changes, but the current movement in the legislature is believed to be the first time lawmakers have attempted to pass to a bill that directly impacts NJSIAA bylaws.

    “For a hundred years the member schools have written the rules,” NJSIAA assistant director Kim DeGraw-Cole said Wednesday. “This would be the first time — unprecedented — where the legislature would actually change those rules, alter those rules and then we’d be left to deal with them without any input or conversation.”

    As currently constituted by the NJSIAA, cooperative sports programs — combined teams from different schools — are prohibited in basketball, baseball, softball and outdoor track. New Jersey currently has 116 schools that are involved in a co-op program, with some even being tri-ops, according to NJSIAA officials.

    “We have had co-ops and have had them for 30 years,” DeGraw-Cole said. “We have tri-ops in ice hockey. So, it’s an evolution that have met the needs. Why do we need to have basically someone else tell our member schools how to write the rules and regulations when we’re already expanding opportunities for kids?”

    The bills, already passed 30-0 by the Senate committee and 11-0 by the Assembly committee, are expected to be placed before a vote of the full Assembly and full Senate this week and could potentially be signed into law by Gov. Chris Christie before Jan. 16. The bills were sponsored by Daniel R. Benson and Annette Quijano in the Assembly, and Shirley Turner and Linda Greenstein in the Senate.

    More than 20 school districts in New Jersey have more than a single high school, with Newark having 12 high schools, NJSIAA officials said.

    The creation of the bill can be traced to last year, when several voting bodies denied a request from the West Windsor-Plainsboro district to merge its two high school football programs due to low participation numbers. Group 4 West Windsor-Plainsboro North High ended up playing a junior varsity schedule, while neighboring Group 4 West Windsor-Plainsboro South High finished with a 1-8 varsity record.

    NJSIAA officials believed the issue was resolved last month when member schools approved a proposal from West Windsor-Plainsboro that allows larger schools to enter co-op programs in football under specified conditions. DeGraw-Cole and NJSIAA project manager Mike Zapicchi were critical of the legislature for pushing a state law without more discussion with the association or member schools.

    “Any member school could propose this exact legislation and then it would be debated, examined and voted on and it could pass in the same fashion,” Zapicchi said. “This way, it takes the decision making of the member schools completely out of the situation. What they’re saying is, they know best.”

    Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D-Gloucester) — a past critic of the NJSIAA — said the legislation was necessary after the West Windsor-Plainsboro situation “didn’t get resolved fast enough through their process.”

    “There’s a growing sense of frustration of members of both chambers with the NJSIAA and these kinds of issues that keep rising up from time to time,” Burzichelli said. “The state legislature is about to act. That’s what happens when lawmakers get involved. It becomes a different process.”

    The NJSIAA issued a press release recently expressing fear over the impact the new law could have on the state’s sports scene.

    “Fewer teams means fewer opportunities for students to experience education-based athletics,” incoming NJSIAA Executive Director Larry White said. “Removing any oversight or review will give districts the green light to create all-star teams from a combined school district talent pool.

    “Every student, parent, administrator and coach should be very, very concerned.”

    Meanwhile, the bill is receiving mixed reviews from across the state. Many athletic officials are skeptical that so-called “super teams” would ever come to fruition. West Windsor-Plainsboro superintendent Dave Aderhold said he doesn’t think districts will ever merge sports programs simply for competitive advantage should the new bill pass.

    The NJSIAA is “just spewing nonsense to try and cloud the conversation,” Aderhold said. “Super teams will not happen at big schools. You think a big school in a big district will stand up to the community and say, even with three teams, three quarterbacks, 15 linemen, that we’re going to make one team now because we want a state title? No way. What will happen is when there’s a budgetary crisis that maybe schools will consolidate. When the reality is a lack of enrollment and there are safety concerns is when teams will go co-op.”

    Demarest athletic director Greg Butler operates in a multi-school district in Northern Valley with Old Tappan -- a state champion football team in 2017 -- and agrees that districts will be wary of purposely creating a super team due to the reaction it would generate in the community.

    “Any district looking to combine teams simply for a competitive edge would get backlash from parents,” said Butler, whose ice hockey team already does co-op with Old Tappan due to low participation numbers at Demarest. “No one wants to lose a program or the identity associated with a program. That said, with our ice hockey, there weren’t enough participants for our athletes to compete, so co-oping with Old Tappan was a no-brainer. Now we have Northern Valley ice hockey. At least it gives those kids an opportunity to play.”

    Still, NJSIAA officials see potential trouble looming down the road should these bills be turned into law.

    “Successful programs [in multi-school districts] will continue to flourish, but what’s to say the program or two where the sports aren’t flourishing, ‘You know what? We can save a little money here or there and let’s just have one softball team because we haven’t been successful, it’s not a big sport here,’” DeGraw-Cole said. “And again, your freshman, your JV at both schools — all of that wanes and goes by the wayside. The biggest key is it gets an unfair advantage because now those single-school districts don’t have the opportunities that these multiple school districts have.”

    Aderhold, however, still disagrees with the NJSIAA’s stance that the newly proposed bills are bad for high school sports.

    “You have an athletic association saying they are trying to save sports… by restricting students from participating in sports,” Aderhold said. “They are absolutely blind to the fact that this is already being allowed in other districts. Look at Elizabeth. How many high schools do they have? Six. How many football teams do they have? One. That’s 5,400 students, and that’s allowed under the academy concept. Tell me anywhere in code how that is defined.

    “The hypocrisy is they turn a blind eye when it’s convenient for them, but when a district is trying to keep a program alive, they shut down and turn a blind eye. This is their own doing. … We went to them asking for consideration under their own rules for exemption and they said no, and they’re surprised at the movement that took place to change the rules. … Now they’re scrambling and sending out press releases all in this effort to ‘save sports.’ But what was the reason it even started? Because they excluded kids. They brought this upon themselves."

    JJ Conrad may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @jj_conrad. Like High School Sports on Facebook.

    NJ Advance Media's Matthew Stanmyre contributed to this report.

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