WESTFIELD, NJ – Hundreds of people memorialized Westfield High School's principal, who died earlier this week from complications following his donation of bone marrow to a boy in France.

Students, staff and community members gathered outside of the high school remembered Dr. Derrick Nelson as a selfless and supportive leader. The school’s first African American principal, he had served as an Army Reservist for 20 years. Dr. Nelson was 44.

“The loss of him has been extremely devastating for all of us,” said his fiancé, Sheronda Braker. “But Derrick would want us to continue his legacy and keep his memory alive. He is truly our hero.”

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At the vigil, students remembered Nelson for his ability to forge friendships with all, even in a school of nearly 2,000 students.

“Every person he talked to, he genuinely made an effort to care about and learn about them,” said Brianna Vacca, the Student Government Association treasurer, who is a junior. “He made students and staff all feel wanted and like we belonged and had a place in the school.”

Students had worked with administration, police officers and the school choir to organize the vigil, SGA President Brianna Hatch, one of the event’s principal student organizers said.

“We’re giving Dr. Nelson the honor he deserves from his community and from the people who loved and cared about him,” said Hatch, who is a senior.

The school choir sang “Amazing Grace” and sniffles could be heard in the crowd.

“Dr. Nelson has truly left a handprint on all of our hearts,” said Emma Herber, the SGA’s vice president. “We will forever walk together.”

St. John Baptist Church in Scotch Plains will hold two viewings for Dr. Nelson on Monday, April 12, from 5 -9 p.m. and on Tuesday, April 16, from 10 – 11 a.m. A funeral service will follow Tuesday’s viewing from 11 a.m. 1 p.m., according to the Plinton Curry Funeral Home.

Daniel Han is a Westfield High School senior participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.

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