EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - The memorial service for Yousef Khela, 13, was held on Thursday, January 23 at the St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church. From 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, Yousef’s memory was honored by his family, friends, and local community. Among those who spoke at his wake were several members of the church and his older sisters, Sara and Sandy Khela.

Accompanied by a large, flower-wreathed portrait of Yousef at the front of the church, speakers recalled their experiences with the boy, who died this Wednesday due to a tragic accident at the East Brunswick Municipal Pond.

The many church members who spoke at the memorial recalled Yousef as a kind, considerate boy, full of energy but always willing to own up to his mistakes and apologize. He loved playing soccer and basketball, and had a good sense of humor. Yousef was also described as being an active member of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church, regularly attending Sunday School and even serving as a deacon there. 

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His 8th grade Sunday School teacher, David Awad, said that he was an enthusiastic student who rarely ever forgot daily prayers, and who forged connections with nearly every person in his class.

“We lost a brother here,” he said of his student, “but we gained a brother in heaven.”

Yousef’s death occurred while he and two of his friends were out on the East Brunswick Municipal pond, and the ice covering its surface broke. The others were able to self-rescue and survived, but Yousef slipped under the ice and remained there until he was rescued by local firefighters. Emergency Medical Personnel transported him to Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 7:45 PM that evening.

Many who spoke at the wake acknowledged that the period of mourning following his death would be a difficult time for everyone, but that the memorial should not be treated as a sad event, but as a celebration of his life and the person that he was. A video slideshow was presented at the end of the service, showing moments from his life and pictures of Yousef with his friends and family.

The firefighters, police, and EMS who came to his aid during the accident were thanked by the church, along with East Brunswick Mayor Brad Cohen and Churchill Junior High School Principal Dr. Victor Valeski, who were heavily involved in the incident’s aftermath. It was noted by one of the speakers that Cohen managed to arrive at the hospital before Yousef’s parents got there.

Following mass at 8:00 AM, Yousef’s funeral services will take place at St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church at 10:00 AM on Friday, January 24.