EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - More than 200 people gathered in East Brunswick tonight in a memorial service for Yousef Khela who lost his life in a tragic accident this past Wednesday when he broke through the ice at the Municipal Pond. The mood was somber and the tone was quiet as the mourners, many of whom were students who knew Khela at Churchill Junior High, some of whom were members of the St. Mary Coptic Church Community, and yet others who were just there to relieve the burden of a resident of the community, joined together to help Khela's loved ones to survive the unthinkable loss of a child.
As East Brunswick Police Chief Frank LoSacco said, "We are so very sorry." The sorrow was shared deeply by those in attendance and was visible on every face in the crowd. Speakers shared their stories of Khela's life, this week's experiences, prayers, reflections, and especially joy in their recollections of Yousef Khela.
Before the ceremony, Freeholder Kenneth Armwood said, "It is always a mystery when we lose a young person. I hope that we take from this tragedy. We are not guaranteed tomorrow."
Mayor Brad Cohen opened the remembrance by calling the occasion "An opportunity to come together and to seek strength from one another." He talked about the location - not more than 50 feet away from where Khela lost his life - as a place that East Brunswick has long used to join together to remember loss and to bond together for strength. He called the area near the pond at the municipal center "a place of peace and solemness."
Cohen the introduced East Brunswick's Police Chief Frank LoSacco who asked, "How do we prepare for this?" He was referring to addressing the crowd about the death of a young person, but he followed his own question about the preparedness of the first responders who drew Khela from the pond by forming a human chain. He described the officers, fire fighters, and EMT volunteers as "dedicated, professional, and selfless." Despite the efforts of the rescuers, LoSacco said, "Someone had a bigger plan in mind for Yousef."
East Brunswick Schools Superintendent Dr. Victor Valeski stressed the idea of family throughout his address to the assembly: "Family is the central theme I I want to leave with you tonight. We have a school family. The school community behaves like a family in which our individual attitude toward each other affects what we can achieve together."
Father Mark Hannah of St. Mary Church expressed gratitude to the entirety of the East Brunswick community in the township's support of member of his church family and the Coptic community in town. "We are happy to be a part of this community from which we have received overwhelming support."
His colleague then followed with a reading of the well-know passage from the Bible's Book of Ecclesiastes, chapter 3, verses 1-8, "To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." The reading echoed the homilies given at Khela's funeral and wake, during which the idea of balance and God's plan was stressed.
Father Mino, also from St. Mary, then celebrated Khela's life and the "value of our children and how precious the human soul is. When we left the surgery room in the Emergency Room, there were more than 200 people at the hospital, including the mayor, there to offer support and prayer for Yousef."
Father Mark then concluded his pastoral message by asking those in attendance to "honor Yousef's memory by continuing his dream to help other people." He said that Khela will "live in our heart and mind and soul. I hs prayer he said that those in attendance were "united in one heart" and expressed support for his "beloved eighth-graders."
Marian Nasser, Yousef Khela's friend described the 13[year-old as the "kindest, purest, most loving" she had ever known. He was "beyond amazing," she said. "I am proud to celebrate the beginning of Yousef's eternal life."
Mayor Cohen concluded the ceremony by reading from Psalm 113, verses 7-9: "That He may set him with princes/Even with the princes of His people." He described his own "human chain" of reactions to Khela's emergency and recovery from the eyewitness who called 999 to the police dispatchers who began the intervention to the surgeons at the hospital. "This is an example of how government needs to be working, " said Cohen. He also stressed the importance of reaching out to the two boys who survived the tragic event and to support them in their pain and loss.
After the ceremony, residents, families, and students hugged each other in support and placed candles by Yousef Khela's memorial near the pond in which he lost his young life.