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News from Monmouth County, New Jersey

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    The main march in D.C. and sister marches across New Jersey call for strengthened gun control laws.

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    Police found a bull wandering the streets of Howell on Thursday morning after it escaped its home following a nor'easter that dropped a foot of snow, accompanied by 50 mph winds.

    It's not Howell Police Department's first time at the rodeo. 

    Police found a bull wandering the streets of Howell on Thursday morning after it escaped its home following a nor'easter that dropped a foot of snow, accompanied by 50 mph winds. 

    When the storm knocked a fence down, the 500-pound bull made a run for it down Oak Glen Road, spokesman Christian Antunez said.  

    Patrolmen spotted the loose bull, and attempted tto corral it. Officer John Louhier tried out his best cowboy impersonation and attempted to lasso the animal, which didn't work, Antunez said, but gave the cops a good laugh.

    Luckily, the bull's caretaker came to assist Louhier, and brought the bull back to its home, officials said. 

    Howell Police have had several encounters with escaped animals, including horses, coyotes and bears, he said. 


    Sophie Nieto-Munoz may be reached at Follow her at @snietomunoz. Find on Facebook.

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    The torture of four storms in three weeks has many awaiting summer. But the wear and tear caused by the string of storms might be visible when it comes time to set foot on the sand. Watch video

    The torture of four nor'easters in three weeks has many awaiting summer, when they can forget winter and warm up on the beach.

    But the wear and tear caused by the string of storms might still be visible when it comes time to set foot on the sand. 

    The storm on Wednesday dropped more than a foot of snow in parts of the state and cut power to thousands, but brought mostly high winds and rain that eventually turned to slushy snow along the coast. 

    That left many at the shore without too much shoveling to do Thursday, but some towns are facing a bigger problem: the cumulative impact the series of storms had along their shores. 

    "This series of nor'easters has really taken a real bite out of our beach," North Wildwood Mayor Patrick Rosenello said. "This is by far the worst damage we've seen in that area in my lifetime." 

    The state's Department of Environmental Protection's Division of Coastal Engineering was surveying beaches Thursday, said Lawrence Hajna, a department spokesman. Some erosion was expected after the storm, he added, but it wasn't clear how severe it would be when combined with the three previous ones. 

    That frequency of the storms had experts and officials concerned about the beaches. Four is highly unusual, said Stewart Farrell, the director of Stockton University's Coastal Research Center, noting that he hasn't seen a similar series of winter weather since 1983. 

    "Each one would have counted as a minor event," he said. "These were not serious storms, but the combined effect is that of one serious storm." 

    The latest nor'easter has left some towns fighting an uphill battle to replenish the beaches in time for Memorial Day, which will kick off the tourism season just five weeks from now. 

    North Wildwood started an emergency extension of the bulkhead on John F. Kennedy Beach Drive between 6th Avenue and the sea wall last fall, said Rosenello, the mayor.  said. Without that work, the city could have lost streets, businesses and residences, he said.

    So far, hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of sand has been pulled from the beach, and Rosenello said it's too soon for him to say how well North Wildwood's shores will recover before the start of the summer season.  

    Farrell, though, said beaches can replenish naturally in about four to six weeks. While the barrage of nor'easters was an unusual event he hadn't seen in more than three decades, he still predicts tides will gradually move the sand back to the most of shoreline in about that time. 

    In Sea Isle City, another area hit hard by the back-to-back storms earlier this month, there was visible erosion Thursday morning. 

    Water had clearly reached the dunes between 85th and 88th streets, and more long-term scarping had cut against the beach, chipping away to create cliffs in the dunes that were more than 8 feet tall in some spots. 

    Farther north, Long Beach Island managed to avoid the brunt of the storm. Beach Haven Emergency Management coordinator Bill Tromm said the storm brought smaller waves than predicted.

    "Our beach is in pretty good shape," he said. "The storm stayed out to sea a little bit further than we expected."

    Tromm says his team still has to inspect parts of the beach in the next coming days, but from observing the sand dunes and drop-offs, the damage was minimal. He credits the Long Beach Island beach replenishment project for decreasing erosion damage during the winter months.

    "They pumped sand onto the beach and have been tuning it up," he said. "The replenishment just wrapped up so our beaches are in really good shape."

    A day after the nor'easter, several beachgoers visited Holgate -- some wishing to watch the waves, and others braving freezing temperatures to ride them.

    Dan Nolan, 46, who came to the shore from Cranford, said the sand pits made for great surfing conditions.

    "I'm not too worried about any damage," he said. "The waves are good when there's a sandpit like this and the water hits against it. It makes for good surfing." 

    Amanda Hoover can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @amandahoovernj. Find on Facebook

    Alexis Johnson may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @alexisjreports. Find her on Facebook.

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    Bloomfield residents Eric Fernandez and Karian Persaud face forgery and theft charges

    An emergency medical technician for a private ambulance company faces theft and forgery charges after Hillsdale police say he stole blank checks from a woman during transport from a hospital, authorities said.

    Eric Fernandez, 32, of Bloomfield, signed the stolen checks in the patient's name and deposited them with the help of a woman he lives with, according to Hillsdale Police Chief Robert Francaviglia.

    The theft occurred in early December, police said. The woman called police to say two checks were stolen from her belongings and deposited, police said.

    "The resident believed the that the checks were stolen while she was being transported home from the hospital via private ambulance service," Francaviglia said in a statement.

    Police zeroed in on Fernandez, who was working as an EMT during the woman's ambulance ride, the chief said.

    Fernandez allegedly "completed and signed the checks pretending to be the resident," Francaviglia said.

    The checks were deposited into an account belonging to Karian Persaud, 31, of Bloomfield, Francaviglia said.

    Fernandez and Persaud live together in the 500 block of Bloomfield Avenue in Bloomfield, police said.

    Fernandez was charged with third-degree forgery, third-degree uttering a forged document and theft. Persaud was charged with third-degree uttering a forged document and third-degree theft by deception, police said.

    Police did not release the name of the ambulance company Fernandez worked for, how long he has been working there or the status of his employment.

    Public records show Fernandez has arrests in two states dating back five years.

    In January 2013, he was charged with two counts of retail theft in Palm Beach County, Florida. The charges were later dropped by the prosecutor, records show.

    In May 2016, Fernandez was sentenced to up to three years in prison for a burglary in Union County, records show. In October 2017, Fernandez was sentenced to up to 18 months for fraudulent use of a credit card in Monmouth County, records show.

    Neither state nor county jail records show when Fernandez was last released from custody.

    Anthony G. Attrino may be reached at Follow him on Twitter @TonyAttrino. Find on Facebook.

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    How do we keep safe -- and preserve liberties of the Second Amendment?

    It's about safety.

    It's also about school shootings and urban violence.

    It's also about guns. And gun rights.

    It's also about mental illness. And criminal behavior.

    And even violence in movies and video games.

    But mostly, it's about safety.

    Safety. Something we should all be able to agree on.

    Safety is not a liberal agenda, just as ignoring safety isn't really what conservatives want.

    What we disagree on is how to keep our country's school children, city dwellers, movie goers, mall shoppers, sports fans -- and everyone else -- safe.

    It's the age-old question about our Bill of Rights.  How much freedom are we willing to give up for the public good?

    But agreeing we all want to be safe is a good place to continue the conversation about violence in our country.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns

    The people organizing New Jersey's March for Our Lives tomorrow want to hammer home that message.

    "We don't want to take away the right for people to safely own guns," said Rev. Melissa Hall of the St. James Episcopal Church in Upper Montclair, which is holding a March for Our Lives event tomorrow at 5 p.m., one of two dozen in the state.

    "But we want our kids, our people, to be safe," she said. "Isn't that what we all should want? To be safe."  

    Elizabeth Meyer, a Branchburg mother and teacher, who has helped 29 student leaders organize the March for Our Lives event in Newark tomorrow, echoed that mission.

    "This isn't about the Second Amendment," she said. "It's about keeping people safe everywhere -- in school, on the streets, in the movie theater and the mall."

    The Newark march, which begins at 10 a.m. in Military Park ( was organized by students from places as economically disparate and geographically distant as Princeton and Newark, and Ridgewood and Toms River. The student leaders represent those towns and Howell, Marlboro, Randolph, Somerville and the Oranges.

    Newark was chosen because of the mass transit options and because the students want to connect and bring attention not only to school shootings but also to the gun violence that plagues our cities.

    One of the student leaders, Elijah Brown of East Orange, has had two cousins in Baltimore murdered.

    "One was about my age, and still in high school," he said. "The other was a Marine."

    Brown, a sophomore political science major at Rutgers-Newark, will speak to the crowd about how the deaths left "a void that's hard to heal" in his extended family.

    "It creates holes in a family," he said. "You never get to know those people."

    For those not directly impacted, Brown said, there is constant fear. Gunshots reverberate down city streets, making people feel uneasy and at risk.

    "Entire communities live in fear," he said. "It's crazy. People should be able to feel safe in their towns."

    Safety. It's on all our minds these days as mass shootings have breached the boundaries of the unthinkable in the past few years.

    • Fifty-eight people killed and more than 500 wounded during a country music concert in Las Vegas.
    • Twenty first-graders and six adults killed in Newtown, Conn.
    • Twenty-six parishioners killed in a rural Texas church.
    • Fourteen county employees killed at a work event in San Bernardino.
    • Twelve moviegoers killed and 58 wounded in a Colorado movie theater.
    • Forty-nine nightclub patrons killed and more than 50 injured in Orlando, Fla.
    • Thirty-two students killed at Virginia Tech.

    And then there is the urban violence, where the murders, usually one or two at a time, add up to thousands. Nearly 500 a year in Chicago, about 350 in Baltimore, roughly 300 a year in both Philadelphia and Detroit, and 150 a year each in New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Milwaukee.

    Newark, with 74 homicides last year, doesn't make the list of the worst cities for murder. But, as police and politicians like to say, one is too many.

    "Parkland was the catalyst, but inner-city gun violence is one of the reasons we chose Newark," said Sarah Emily Baum, a senior at Marlboro High School and an organizer of the Newark event. "For white picket-fence communities, the school violence is shocking. But in the cities, this is an old problem and nothing is being done."

    She referred to a budget amendment signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 that prohibited funding for the national Center for Disease Control to study gun violence. A new spending bill will make funding available in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

    "Government stripped funding to study gun violence. How can we solve the problems if we don't educate ourselves?" she said.

    A spending bill passed by the House on Thursday will make that funding available in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

    After that attack at Stoneman Douglas High School left 17 students dead last month, Baum wanted to organize a local March for Our Lives.

    "I wanted to do a sister march (to the national march in Washington tomorrow) but I knew I was in over my head," she said. "I wanted to reach out to the people who organized other marches."

    Simultaneously, Erin Chung of "Women for Progress," and Brett Sabo of "Moms Demand Action," reached out to Elizabeth Meyer, who was fresh off organizing a Trenton event as part of the national Women's March in Trenton on Jan. 21.

    "She is an dynamite organizer," said Chung, who lives in Wyckoff. "I texted her and said, 'We have to do something.' We decided almost immediately that we should do something in Newark."

    "We also knew we wanted the kids to be the driving force," said Meyer.

      Through social media and old-fashioned networking, the word went out.

    "My mother knew of Elizabeth, so I got in touch," Baum said.

    She was the first. Within a week, other students were on board.

    The Newark students came in through Eliza Armstrong, a teacher at North Star Academy and Kim Gaddy, a member of the Newark Board of Education.

    "I heard from a woman whose daughter went to camp with (Parkland victim) Alex Schacter," Meyer said. "She was devastated and wanted to be involved. She brought in another girl who knew Alex from camp."

    Darcy Schleifstein of Randolph and Samantha Levy of South Orange are those two girls and will speak at the Newark event.

    They, like Brown, will talk about personal loss. But all of us sense a loss of security these days -- that unnerving feeling we may not be safe. Wherever. Whenever.

     "Just the other day," Meyer said, "one of our student organizers, Christian Martin of Princeton, began texting me. He was on lockdown (at school) because of the guy with the gun at Panera Bread."

    Police killed the armed man, Scott Mielentz of Lawrenceville, after a five-hour standoff.  No one else was injured. This time.

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.  

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    These are the athletes to keep an eye on in 2018.

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    Smith is making some lifestyle changes after suffering a heart attack. He's starting by dropping all meat and animal products and eating only potatoes. So far, the move has paid off, with the director losing 20 pounds in less than two weeks.

    Boil 'em, mash 'em, put 'em in a stew. 

    Kevin Smith is all about potatoes. In fact, they're all he's eating nowadays, thanks to a radical new diet plan that has been melting the pounds off the director, who recently suffered a heart attack.

    The "Clerks" director had already lost 80 pounds several years ago, but after a doctor at the hospital told him he had to make some changes and lose 50 more pounds, he was looking for a new way forward. 

    In the March 17 episode of his Hollywood Babble-On podcast, Smith, who has embraced a plant-based diet, said a friend recommended he check in with magician and performer Penn Jillette, who famously lost more than 100 pounds in 2015 using a so-called "mono-diet." The plan starts with two weeks of plain potatoes and nothing else, then adds in vegetables, and eventually, fruit and nuts.

    Jillette told Smith to check out his book, "Presto: How I Made Over 100 Pounds Disappear and Other Magical Tales." Smith got the account of Jillette's weight loss-and-potatoes journey on tape. 

    "The program he went on is rather extreme, but it appealed to me because it dials into certain personality traits," Smith said. (Gillette said that he wanted to excise his habit of social eating, for one.) He then met with the architect of the diet, Ray Cronise

    By the time of the podcast, Smith had been on the totally tuber-lar diet nine days and had lost 17 pounds. 

    On Thursday, Smith, a Red Bank native who grew up in Highlands, announced even more progress, with a total loss of 20 pounds in 13 days. 

    "My blood pressure is amazing," he tweeted, giving Jillette's book a shoutout. 

    In February, Smith sustained a heart attack caused by a blockage of his left anterior descending artery during one of his shows in Glendale, California. Doctors cleared the blockage, and Smith said he has been feeling fantastic ever since. 

    Smith said his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith, 18, has been especially happy about her father's lifestyle change, since she's already vegan.

    "She's like, 'Welcome home, brother!'" he said. Smith has committed to eating no animal-derived foods, though he won't yet call himself vegan. 

    "I'll never eat the way I used to," he said, noting that his diet wasn't all that poor as of late, but the damage to his arteries had already been done during his childhood, when he ate Twinkies with abandon.

    Still, Smith said he's anxious about adding in vegetables. He apparently hates them, or at least thinks he does. 

    "I'll give it a shot, because why not? It's that or the f***ing grave," he said. "But I can't guarantee that I'm going to become, like, a vegetable eater."  

    Potatoes it is. 


    Amy Kuperinsky may be reached at Follow her on Twitter @AmyKup or on Facebook.


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    These guys are destined to be the goalies' biggest enemies in 2018

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    Thousands of New Jersey's young people, joined by their parents, teachers, clergy members and neighbors, will take to the streets on March 24, 2018, as part of the national March for Our Lives movement. Watch video

    One paragraph in the mission statement of March for Our Lives stands out for its sheer horror.

    "Every kid in this country now goes to school wondering if this day might be their last. We live in fear."

    Thousands of New Jersey's young people, joined by their parents, teachers, clergy members and neighbors, will take to the streets Saturday in a desperate attempt to make that fear go away.

    They will be marching for their lives - for all of our lives - to convince the adults in Congress to put an end to the gun violence that has become the equivalent of an extra-curricular activity in our nation's schools.

    Residents in close to two dozen Garden State communities are planning sister events to the main march in Washington, D.C. organized by the students of Parkland, Florida, who lived through one of the most terrifying days of their lives on Valentine's Day.

    Princeton, Audubon, Asbury Park, Red Bank, Englewood, Montclair and Morristown are among venues where the protests will take place.

    Thinking of taking your kid to the March for Our Lives?

    Gov. Phil Murphy is slated to speak at the march in Newark, joined by the mother of Newark's Mayor Ras Baraka. Amina Baraka lost a daughter in a domestic violence incident almost 15 years ago.

    New Jersey's first lady, Tammy Murphy, and U.S. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-5th District) are expected to be among the protesters in Hackensack.

    The marches, nearly 900 of them throughout the world, are part of a grass-roots movement steadily gathering strength after a gunman with an AR-15 weapon murdered 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

    Baby Boomers grew up convinced they were going to save the world, and in some respects, they succeeded.

    They organized massive protests that eventually ended the war in Vietnam, they helped move the country in the right direction when it came to women's rights and civil rights, they made discoveries to conquer or at least control AIDS and cancer.

    But now it's falling to a new generation to attack the deadly plague of gun violence that the adults in the room have not been able - or willing -- to contain.

    Held hostage by a lobby whose sole reason to exist is to sell more guns, legislators have memorized a playbook of thoughts and prayers to use after a gun-wielding sociopath rampages through a shopping mall, an outdoor concert, a nightclub or a school.

    With youths' clear-eyed vision, these committed organizers see right through the hypocrisy. They're demanding that their lawmaker care more about the children in their districts than about the dollars in their campaign chests.

    They may be novices at pulling together marches and planning rallies, these students of today. But they are driven by a fear that goes bone deep. We pray Congress hears them.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


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    Judge Richard English in Monmouth County Superior Court issued his ruling on Friday. Watch video

    On the eve of what would have been Sarah Stern's 21st birthday, a judge ruled Friday that a video prosecutors say shows the man accused of killing Stern telling a friend how he strangled her with such force that she was lifted off the ground and then watched for 30 minutes as she died can be used as evidence in his trial. 

    "It's Sarah's birthday present from the judge," her father, Michael Stern, said in a phone interview after the ruling. "The process moves pretty slowly. It's one step at a time. This was a big step for Sarah." 

    The chilling video was filmed by a friend working with police as authorities honed in on Liam McAtasney, 20, as a suspect in the Dec. 2, 2016, disappearance of Stern, 19.

    McAtasney and Preston Taylor, who both grew up with Stern in the close-knit seaside community of Neptune City, were charged in connection with her death two months after her car was found abandoned on the Route 35 bridge in Belmar. 

    McAtasney's attorney, Charles Moriarty, tried to get the tape tossed from evidence because he argued police improperly used the friend, identified only by the initials A.C., to circumvent attorney-client privilege. 

    "They can't use A.C. to get around what they can't do themselves," Moriarty said at a previous hearing on Feb. 22. 

    Attorney for man accused of killing Sara Stern wants trial moved to different countyLiam McAtasney, 20, of Neptune City. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for

    Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Richard English wrote in his written opinion that, at the time of the conversation, McAtasney was not indicted and therefore had no rights to an attorney. 

    "There was no pressure on the defendant to confess, because he was speaking to a good friend," English said. "He was speaking to someone he implored to meet up with him in order to tell what had happened to Sarah Stern."

    The cooperating witness helped detectives with the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office and Belmar Police Department break the case.

    He decided to go to police after his conversations with McAtasney about Stern's disappearance concerned him. 

    "He felt that if he didn't participate in this that Liam McAtasney would kill him and/or hurt his family," one of the lead detectives on the case, Brian Weisbrot, testified at a previous hearing. 

    During their investigation, authorities learned that McAtasney was the last person seen with Stern before police located her abandoned car on the Route 35 bridge early Dec. 3, 2016. 

    Moriarty also attempted to have McAtasney's interviews with police thrown out, but English denied that motion at the Feb. 22 hearing

    Moriarty.JPGDefense attorney Charles Moriarty, right, speaks with Liam McAtasney, left, at a court hearing on Jan. 3, 2018. Moriarty no longer represents McAtasney. (Patti Sapone | NJ Advance Media for

    Moriarty claimed McAtasney embellished stories he told A.C., an aspiring independent horror film producer, because he was constantly trying to pitch him movie ideas. 

    Authorities say McAtasney strangled Stern at the home she shared with her family and then stole $10,000 she had recently acquired from her grandmother.

    McAtasney then had Taylor remove Stern's body from the home and help him dump it off the bridge, authorities said. 

    Authorities never recovered Stern's body.

    Taylor, 20, has admitted his role in the coverup and agreed to testify against McAtasney.

    McAtasney and Taylor attempted to thwart investigators by making it appear as if she committed suicide, authorities said.

    The two, authorities say, went to extreme measures to cover their tracks, including burying the stolen money in the ground and participating in a community-organized search to find clues to help crack the case. 

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

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    Hundreds marched Saturday in New Jersey to push lawmakers to adopt gun control legislation. Here are some of the boldest signs.

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    New Jersey protests embrace all ages and races

    The old lions were gathered at the side of the stage where Sarah Emily Baum was delivering her speech.

    They had front row seats among the 5,000 or so people gathered in Newark's Military Park during the largest anti-gun violence "March for Our Lives" event in the state Saturday.

    As this slight young woman -- a Marlboro High School senior no more than 5-foot-3 and 100-pounds spoke with a force and passion about gun violence that drew the rapt attention of the crowd -- the old lions smiled approvingly. They had been waiting 20 years for a moment like this.

    MORE: Recent Mark Di Ionno columns

    And as young Ms. Baum built a seasoned preacher's rhythm to her speech, the old lions of the Newark anti-gun violence movement applauded as wildly as the rest of the crowd.

    "We march to send a message to our lawmakers: Enough is enough," Baum said.

    That was one of the slogans of the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition (NAVC) started by Newark Mayor Ras Baraka almost 10 years ago.

    "We march for the Parkland 17 and for the 13,000 children lost to gun violence each," Baum said.

    One of the co-founders of the NAVC, Weequahic history teacher Bashir Akinyele has had 46 of his students murdered over a 20-year period.

    "We march because gun violence is a public health epidemic," she said. "School shootings are not the illness, they are a single symptom. We march because our government defunded critical CDC (Center for Disease Control) research on gun violence that would save tens of thousands of lives."

    Urban groups like the NAVC have been asking for gun violence -- and the costs associated with it -- to be viewed as a public health problem from the time the funding was killed in 1996 during the Bill Clinton administration.

    "We march because too many children have had to scrape friends' bodies from the asphalt beside schoolyards and playgrounds," Baum said.

    It was 2007, when Newark four college students were shot execution-style in the Mount Vernon School playground by members of the MS-13 gang. The "Enough is Enough" cries started strong but eventually faded out.

    Larry Hamm and other members of the Newark-based People's Organization for Progress held a large sign "Stop the Violence" sign that was as old as Sarah Baum.

    "That sign is 18 years old," Hamm said.

    He has been protesting violence even longer, since 1993.

    Hamm, along with "The Street Doctor" Earl Best, Rev. Thomas Ellis, and Zayid Muhammad of the NAVC, were among the old lions who all had the same opinion of the march.

    "I've been dreaming about this for 18 years," said Best, a charismatic figure who has spent his life trying to reach and better Newark's youth.

    "We've been at this a long time," said Muhammad, whose group has protested at the scene of a Newark homicide every week since 2009, drawing their own few-dozen members and family members of the those killed. "To see this, all these people, well, it's about time."

    When Baum came off the stage, she posed for pictures with these groups behind their banners. It was all part of the "intersectionality" of suburbs and cities, school shootings and urban violence.

    "Gun violence knows no color," said Princess Sabaroche, a senior at North Star Academy in Newark, who, like Baum, was an organizer of the event.

    "The pain that the people in Parkland are feeling is the same pain that the citizens of Newark go through daily," she said.

    Chartered buses from the suburbs began pulling into Military Park at 9 a.m., while NJ Transit trains carried marchers into Penn Station and Broad Street Station.

    The speakers stand was set up on the NJPAC side of the park, in the shadow of the Trinity and St. Phillip's Cathedral, which predates the American Revolution by more than 50 years. The crowd gathered on the lawn between the church and Gutzon Borglum's colossal "Wars of America" sculpture.

    With the backdrop of a colonial church, Baraka's mother, Amina Baraka, sounded like a Founding Father herself when she encouraged the crowd to "restore Civics" in the classroom and "study the Constitution of the United States of America."

    "Resist tyranny!" she said as her parting words.

    It was a crowd as demographic as the nation itself with people of every age and color. While students from 29 urban and suburban high schools organized the event with the support of several women's groups, there seemed to be more adults in the crowd than kids.

    "I'm marching for my grandchildren," said one sign.

    "The most lethal weapon a teacher should carry is a red pen," said another.

    "I should be reading books not eulogies," said another.

    There were professional banners of organizations and signs drawn in the hand of elementary school kids.

    And this one captured the feeling of the day, made by a woman with a student coalition from Bloomfield, Montclair and Nutley.

    "You are leaders. We've been waiting for you."

    Essex County Executive Joe Di Vincenzo, moving through the crowd, seconded that opinion.

    "Adults have failed these kids," he said. "They're amazing. They're going to take over. They're going to vote for people who support and respond to the them."

    Zachary Dougherty, a Toms River North High School junior, enlightened the crowd on National Rifle Association political donations saying it had "contributed $5.9 million in (campaign donations) in the 2016 election cycle alone," a number that is constant over the last 20 years.

    "Our generation will no longer tolerate public servants who heed the demand of the gun lobby," he said.

    Dougherty introduced Gov. Phil Murphy, who warned the crowd to "never underestimate the power of the gun lobby," but implored them to show "muscle and strength" to keep at it and "win elections."

    That remains to be seen. But this new partnership between cities and suburbs and blacks and whites could be the start of real gun reform.

    If nothing else, it should send this message to the leaders of the gun lobby: The youthful and energized lions sneaking through the grass threatening your Second Amendment rights is not the government -- it's crime and mass shootings, and the people fed up with both.

    And the NRA and the gun manufacturers that support it should think about strategies of reform before they're faced with repeal.

    Mark Di Ionno may be reached at Follow The Star-Ledger on Twitter @StarLedger and find us on Facebook.  

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    This Holmdel couple invested big to make a kitchen perfect for hosting.

    N.J. home makeover is a regular feature on To submit your renovation for consideration, email with your full name, email address, phone number and town/city. Attach "before" and "after" photos of what you renovated.

    The kitchen of the 1983 Colonial in Holmdel was open and spacious with a good amount of light from a single window and sliding glass doors to the patio.

    But there was a moveable island on wheels parked next to the patio door. It was the previous owner's solution to address insufficient counter space.

    When Paul and Agnes Przybylski bought the four-bedroom, three-bathroom house in Holmdel two years ago, they knew the kitchen would require an overhaul.

    "That was the major project in our minds," Agnes Przybylski said. "We wanted to have a dream kitchen."

    An essential in creating the dream was their cabinetry, custom built for the space by Design Line Kitchens in Sea Girt. Going custom meant bringing in unique details such as an enclosed range hood with the same woodwork as a decorative cornice box built above the window.

    "Adding just a little extra detail makes it more elegant," said Agnes Przybylski, a mental health professional who is now a full-time mom to their 5-year-old daughter.

    Her husband works in investment management, and the couple is always entertaining.

    "We love having people over," she said. "We cook, we bake, we entertain, so the kitchen is our room for daily use."

    Given that, the couple willingly invested $90,000 to make a kitchen that would fit their aesthetic and lifestyle needs.

    The centerpiece of the white kitchen is an island that brings warmth and color. It's made of maple like the other cabinetry, but stained a gray tone, then coated with a brown glaze.

    "It gives a little bit of a driftwood, coastal feel," said Rene Costabile, the kitchen designer who worked with the couple to devise the layout. "With the brown glaze, it ties in with the wood floor."

    The original oak floor was refinished, and the kitchen sink moved into the island. A new Wolf range was installed on the former sink wall.

    "We needed to provide proper venting for a professional series range," Costabile said. "That was easier to do by moving it to an exterior wall."

    The Sub-Zero refrigerator and their dishwasher are now concealed behind panels to blend in with the cabinetry.

    "You put hardware on the appliances that match the kitchen cabinets, and it becomes more of a piece of furniture than a large appliance," Costabile said.

    The pilaster posts at each corner of the island have a similar effect. "They give it just a little architectural detail with a refined, stately appeal," she said.

    That's exactly what Agnes Przybylski was aiming for in an island that is also a kitchen workhorse.

    "Before there was a table that we didn't really need," she said. The island offers them much more guest seating, in addition to functioning as a food prep and homework zone. "It is the center of the kitchen, and we definitely use it a lot."

    The kitchen has a Delta pot-filler faucet above the range, but the main faucet at the island is one of Agnes Przybylski's favorite features. The large, intricately designed Waterstone faucet added about $3,000 to the kitchen's price tag.

    "That was definitely my splurge item," she said of the articulating faucet, which offers a wider range of movement. "I'm so glad we chose this one and spent a little bit more money. It was worth it."

    Costabile says versatile white kitchens have become "the little black dress" in home design, and Agnes Przybylski was thinking about how to accessorize.

    She needed a way to keep the kitchen from feeling sterile, so to complement the island's color and the warmth of the floors, she chose a vivid floral fabric for the window and the patio doors. A friend made the window treatments.

    "I wanted something to pop in the kitchen," she said of the fabric, also selected to play off the red knobs on her kitchen range.

    Atop the island's quartz top -- which matches the kitchen counters -- a large, sculptural wine bottle opener is functional artwork.

    "That was purchased for my husband as a gift," she said. "He is a big wine person, and so I knew he would like that."

    Costabile, says the cabinets were a fraction of the project cost, coming in at $35,000, including installation.

    In a kitchen with high-end appliances and fixtures, another costly element was the backsplash with diamond-shaped marble tiles punctuated by tiny mirrored circles. All were installed by hand, piece by piece.

    A door with panes of glass allows light from the kitchen to enter a mudroom adjacent to the kitchen. It echoes the design of cabinet doors with glass insets on either side of it.

    The upper cabinets are stacked on symmetrical counter areas that frame the doorway. At the corners, the cabinets and counters are angled to more efficiently use space.

    "It provides a lot of extra counter space to do an angled cabinet," Costabile said. "When you do a 90-degree corner, you do lose some space."

    What they renovated

    The kitchen of a 1983 Colonial-style home

    Who did the work?

    Design Line Kitchens of Sea Girt, with kitchen designer Rene Costabile

    How long it took

    About eight weeks, with cabinet and counter installation, lighting, painting and the tiled backsplash

    What they spent


    Where they splurged

    On an articulating sink faucet, handmade in America by Waterstone

    How they saved

    "By having an open mind to purchasing a home that needed a lot of work but was in desirable neighborhood," Agnes Przybylski said.

    What they did themselves

    "It was exciting to be part of the demolition and remove the existing kitchen cabinets, appliances and countertops," she said. "There is a feeling of accomplishment in taking the first steps in creating your dream home."

    What they like most

    "The most pleasing aspect of the kitchen remodel is that it still fits well with the home, but now has the capability to feel inviting if there are two in the kitchen or as many as 25, and we have had 25," she said. "By removing the need for a traditional table in an eat-in kitchen, the elimination allowed for an island that we use constantly, with the additional of a serving bar that has counterspace and extra storage."

    What they'd have done differently?


    Kimberly L. Jackson may be reached at Find Entertainment on Facebook.

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    Of New Jersey's 565 municipalities, these 67 towns saw decreases in their average property tax bills in 2017.

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    Consider adopting one of these homeless dogs and cats.

    If you're interested in helping homeless animals but aren't able to adopt one, there are a number of other ways you can be of assistance.

    Realistically, not everyone can adopt. People who live in apartments or developments that have no-pets policies fall into that category, as do people with allergies or disabilities that will not allow them to care for pets of their own. Here are some suggestions for ways people who want to help can participate in caring for homeless animals.

    * Help out at a local shelter. It's not glamorous work by any means, but it's vital and will be very much appreciated. You can do anything from help walk dogs to bottle feed kittens, help clean kennels or cat's cages or even help with bathing and grooming. Contact your local shelter to find out their policies regarding volunteers.

    * If you're handy, you can lend a hand in many ways. Shelters usually need repairs of many kinds, so fixer-uppers can help out like that. If you sew, quilt or crochet, you can make blankets for your local shelter.

    * Help out at an adoption event. Many shelters and rescue groups participate in local events by hosting a table with pets available for adoption. They also hold these program at malls, pet supply stores and banks, and can always use a helping hand.

    * For galleries like this one and for online adoptions sites, often a shelter or rescue group doesn't have the time or equipment to shoot good photos of their adoptable pets, Something as simple as making yourself available to shoot and provide digital files of pet photos can be a big help.

    * Donate. It doesn't have to be money; shelters need cleaning supplies, pet food, toys for the animals and often even things we don't think twice about getting rid of like old towels and newspapers. Every little bit helps.

    If you don't know where your local animal shelter or rescue group is, a quick online search will reveal a number of results. It doesn't take a lot of time or effort to get involved but it provides immeasurable assistance.

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

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    The bipartisan PFRS pension management bill flew through 3 committees by a combined vote of 24-3. Clearly, our Legislature isn't prepared to handle this. Watch video

    Politically-greased risks taken with taxpayer money are common in Trenton, but now we are about to learn whether Gov. Murphy is willing to be the adult in the room.

    The Legislature will likely pass a toxic bill today that transfers control of the Police and Firemen's Retirement System (PFRS) to the unions, essentially allowing them to increase their own benefits whenever the mood strikes.

    Recent indications are that the governor is not inclined to go along with this plan, which is good, because this bill is a double-barreled lesson in screwy fiduciary obligation.

    Specifically, it contains two provisions that will cause most taxpayers to drive their heads into a concrete wall.

    One allows a new Board of Trustees - one comprised of 12 members, with 7 union appointees - the authority to raise the cost of living adjustment with a simple 7-5 majority.

    And while our laws generally prohibit increasing member benefits in any of our state's six pension systems until it is funded at 80 percent, this bill erases that requirement for PFRS - which is funded at only 64 percent.

    It's unclear what has raised Murphy's antenna with this bill (S-5), but it is a welcome pivot. It refutes the prevailing concern that this governor is too eager to capitulate to unions, with the largest red flag being his government's refusal to renew the 2 percent interest arbitration cap.

    But S-5 is lit dynamite, and he has a chance the stomp the fuse.

    "The sponsors might feign fixing the bill Monday morning, but the bottom line is the same," said Sen. Declan O'Scanlon, R-Monmouth. "This bill is destined to screw the taxpayers. If it passes, I hope the governor recognizes that."

    Another gift to the unions, another pummeling for taxpayers | Editorial

    Essentially, it is a power grab - the equivalent of "handing PFRS a blank check," as Gov. Christie snarled in his own veto message last May - because if union members unilaterally vote to boost their benefits, taxpayers get stuck with the bulk of the bill.

    And that absurd board imbalance is something we'll have to live with, even though taxpayers fund 73 percent of PFRS.

    Sponsors may amend the bill before the vote, and require an 8-5 supermajority to change the COLA, but the governor shouldn't be fooled. The fatal flaw in the bill is the elimination of the 80-percent funding level requirement, says Assemblyman Ned Thomson, R-Monmouth, an actuary who has administered more than 500 pension plans over 35 years.

    "The supermajority means nothing. Funding is everything," Thomson said. "People seem to think that 80 is a magic number - no, 100 is a magic number. Remember, we were at 116 percent for all pension systems in 2001, and we dropped to 92 in one year in a $60 billion fund. Bad things happen in a hurry. I challenge any actuary to put his name on this bill."

    An alternate bill written by O'Scanlon and Thomson is more taxpayer-friendly: It requires a 9-6 board vote for any benefit enhancement. It also mandates that funding is sustained for five years at 80 percent or higher. It also takes the same supermajority to make any contribution changes, even after that targeted funding ratio is reached.

    Yes, police and fire fighters should take over stewardship of their pension fund. But as the bipartisan Byrne-Healey Pension Commission pointed out, the union must be responsible on both the asset and liability side, so taxpayers would have no obligation beyond their annual contributions.

    This bill puts that at risk. If the union-heavy PFRS board liquidates hedge fund investments and bets it all on stocks and gets clobbered, that cannot be on the taxpayers. It's that kind of nightmare that should compel governors to protect the people who elect them.

    Bookmark Follow on Twitter @NJ_Opinion and find Opinion on Facebook.


    0 0 highlights the best players in N.J. from the 2017-18 season.

    0 0 highlights the best players in N.J. from the 2017-18 season.

    0 0 looks at the top returning hitters in New Jersey baseball for the 2018 season.

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    Highlighting the state's top players that are sure to make an impact this spring.

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