BERNARDS TWP., NJ - Township police, in "constant contact" with school officials, are investigating Tuesday's death of a 17-year-old Ridge High School junior whose passing was announced by Ridge Principal Frank Howlett on Tuesday night.
Howlett had sent parents an email to Ridge parents at about 9:30 p.m. on Tuesday, notifying them that, "It is with great sadness that we inform you that Martha Moye, grade 11, passed away today. We know that the community will be affected by this tragic loss."
In response to an email inquiry, Bernards Police Chief Brian Bobowicz said the police department is investigating the death of the 17-year-old female township resident and Ridge student, working in partnership with Somerset County authorities and the New Jersey Medical Examiner's Office.
"The PD has been in constant contact with the Bernards Township Board of Education superintendent and the Ridge High School principal's office to include additional police resources being assigned to the high school today in a community support function," Bobowicz added in the email.
The chief said no further information would be released on Tuesday "both out of respect for the deceased, and the continuing nature of our investigation."
"In this very sad time, it is important that we pull together to support one another," Howlett said in the conclusion of his email. A follow-up email was delivered on Wednesday night. [See update at end.]
The principal's email to parents, which did not give details on the girl's passing, said that all Ridge junior conferences would be canceled for Wednesday to allow all school counselors to be available to students. "Please encourage your son or daughter to go to the Counseling Department/Child Study Team if they need someone to help them process their grief," Howlett said in the email.
"As a district, we encourage you to listen carefully to your son or daughter," Howlett said in the email. "Professionals suggest answering questions openly and honestly if they occur, and letting them know that even adults do not have all the answers concerning questions about death. Many of us find this to be a confusing time and an awkward topic to discuss, but open communication is always the best path through difficult issues." The email listed some online resources that parents might want to consult.
[Updated] "First and foremost, many of you have shared kind words of support with members of the Ridge family on this difficult day, and for that, I thank you. We have an amazing faculty and staff who did a wonderful job supporting the students and each other," said a follow email on Wednesday evening from Howlett that was also signed by Jillian Shadis, district supervisor of counseling.
The second email from the administrators said that volunteers from the Somerset County Traumatic Loss Coalition had assisted district counselors in providing grief counseling and support to individuals and groups of students during the Wednesday school day.
"The team not only counseled those who sought out support, but also reached out directly to many students we anticipated would be affected by the loss," the email said.
The email said that regular junior conferences would resume on Thursday, but both school and county counselors will continue to be on hand through the week to provide individual and group counseling. Students seeking assistance should go to the high school's counseling suite, where they would be directed by staff, the email added.
Parents who wish to arrange for their child to speak with someone should contact Shadis or their grade level administrator, the Wednesday email added. "Please take an extra moment tonight to check in with your child(ren).
The Ridge student was among members of among the members of a group of township students, Ridge Against Drugs and Alcohol (RAAD) who were recognized by the Bernards Township Committee last fall for receiving a leadership award.