The game, which had been stopped after the shooting began, was set to resume on Wednesday at Lincoln Financial Field as a gesture from the Philadelphia Eagles. Yet before Camden got to the stadium, it stopped outside the hospital to hold a moment of silence for Micah.
The players and coaches didn’t know about Micah’s status then, nor did they as they arrived and felt the thrill of getting dressed in the Eagles’ locker room and running out of the tunnel to a cloud of smoke and a blaring AC/DC song. But they had heard rumors that Micah had died. It wasn’t until Camden and Pleasantville came together at midfield before the game to lock arms that their worst fears were confirmed.
“Today we learned the sad news that 10-year-old Micah Tennant passed away,” the announcer said, and many of the players on both teams bowed their heads, some holding helmets that carried stickers with Micah’s name and age.
The clock operator put 4:58 on the scoreboard because that was how much time was left in the third quarter when gunfire erupted in the stands Friday night, an incident that provided a stark reminder that no venue is immune from gun violence.
“We always preach to our guys, that’s our safe haven. We forget about all of our problems on the football field,” Camden Coach Dwayne Savage said.
As students from both Pleasantville and Camden tried to return to normalcy this week, the teenage players innocently wondered: When would they be able to finish their game? The Eagles stepped in and provided an answer, announcing that they would host the game on their home field, about 50 miles from Pleasantville, N.J.
For the players, it normally would have been a chance of a lifetime to play in an NFL stadium. Yet it was a somber, emotional consolation to what they had been through the past week. The game was closed to the general public, with each player given a limited number of tickets for family. A few hundred people attended, with each school bringing its marching band.
“It’s really emotional. For a 10-year-old boy to get shot, it’s something he shouldn’t have to deal with,” Camden senior running back Imir Catoe said. “All the emotion, it has to go through the white lines."
Both teams boarded buses and made their way into the city early in the afternoon, leaving behind the school hallways where teachers and counselors have tried to help provide comfort this week. The football field would take care of that Wednesday afternoon, a place where the students wouldn’t have to think about the senseless circumstances surrounding Friday night’s tragedy.
Five men were charged in connection with the shooting, which killed Tennant and wounded two other people, including a 15-year-old who was treated for a graze wound and released from the hospital.
While no motive for the shooting has been released by authorities, Damon G. Tyner, the Atlantic County prosecutor, said in a statement this past weekend that it had nothing to do with students at either high school. Tyner announced Wednesday that Alvin Wyatt, 31, of Atlantic City, was charged with the murder of Tennant and faces two counts of attempted murder, unlawful possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose.
The four other suspects — Shahid Dixon, 27; Tyrell Dorn, 28; Vance Golden, 26; and Michael Mack, 27 — were charged with unlawful possession of a weapon.
Authorities also charged one of the victims. Ibn Abdullah, 27, is being charged with unlawful possession of a handgun, a first-degree crime, because he has a prior conviction for first-degree robbery, authorities said. He is also being charged with certain persons not permitted to possess a handgun. Abdullah is in stable condition and will be undergoing surgery.
The aftershocks of the shooting were still being felt Wednesday. Iris C. Ruiz, the mother of Pleasantville player Jesus Ruiz, was sitting in the stands near the scene Friday night. She thought it was firecrackers. Her daughter grabbed her and said, “Mommy, we have to get out of here.” Ruiz was looking for her son in a panic. He had dropped to the ground and then ran. She didn’t know that he and his teammates had busted down a gate and ran to the school’s gym.
“He was freaking out. He had heard it was a little kid had been shot, and he thought it was his little brother. He has a 5-year-old little brother,” Ruiz said of her son.
For Catoe, gun violence in Camden is a part of life. But the community comes together on Friday nights for high school football games. “It’s part of the community, honestly … you have your days when something could happen, when something might happen,” he said. “At a football game, you would never imagine it would happen.”
That’s why Wednesday’s game was so bittersweet. Fans had to pass through metal detectors and dogs roamed the grounds for much of the afternoon. The players warmed up and came together to meet a few Eagles players, including star quarterback Carson Wentz. Philadelphia Coach Doug Pederson appeared on the big screen for a pregame message. “The game of football is a unifier,” he said.
Once the moment of silence honoring Tennant was over, the players returned to their sidelines and did their best to get fired up. The teams traded a couple of possessions and their fans screamed their lungs out in the giant, mostly empty stadium. Camden came up with a big defensive stop early in the fourth quarter and tacked on a couple of touchdowns, one of which was set up by a long interception return by junior defensive back Dameir Burns.
After his team had won, 22-0, and stormed the field, Burns tried not to think about Friday night. “Memories come back,” he said, shaking his head. He didn’t want to talk about his big play, either — just about who he wanted to dedicate it too.
“I just feel bad for that little boy. Prayers up to him. I balled out for that little boy,” he said of Tennant. “I did it for him.”