EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The East Brunswick Public Schools are in the process of assisting students and staff in dealing with the shock and grief many are feeling following the death of Yousef Khela, an eighth-grader at Churchill Junior High School.
Yesterday afternoon, Khela and two of his friends were on the ice at the Municipal Pond when all three of them fell through the ice and into the water. Although first responders formed a human chain, entering the pond to retrieve Khela, he nonetheless drowned under the ice. His two friends survived. Some East Brunswick police officers and firefighters were treated for hypothermia following the event. One was treated for injuries received in an accident on the way to the location.
The community was reeling last night as the story of the tragedy went live on television, as helicopters and television crews circled around and above East Brunswick.
Today, though, the township and the schools were left to reckon with their town feelings and to address the impact of the loss of Yousef Khela on the community.
Dr. Victor Valeski said this morning, "We have a very robust counseling team that is highly professional." Under the direction of Louise Sultana and Danielle Blalock, Support Centers have been set up at Hammarskjold Middle School, Churchill Junior High, and East Brunswick High School to assist students and staff.
The Crisis Team was notified very early last evening so that team members could formulate a plan to address community needs.
As this is exam week at Churchill and EBHS, students, there are half-days in those buildings. Students may seek counseling at any time, as can staff members who, said Valeski, "Can express their own concerns and grief."
Valeski has also been in contact with the East Brunswick Interfaith Clergy Council and with Fr. Mark of St. Mary's Egyptian Orthodox Church on Riva Avenue.
Tonight's Board of Education meeting will be "streamlined" to address "time-sensitive" issues, with many items tabled for a later meeting. There will be a "For the Good of the Cause" portion to the meeting, but Valeski hopes that it will be short, too, out of respect for the loss of this student.
The meeting will begin with a moment of silence in which to remember the life of Yousef Khela.