18-year-old soccer star shot to death at Underhill Field in Maplewood, 17-year-old injured

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — A Columbia High School student died following a shooting on June 6 at Underhill Field and another was injured, according to the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office on June 7. Moussa Fofana, 18, a CHS junior and star soccer player, was pronounced dead at the scene at 10:24 p.m., after Maplewood Police Department officers were dispatched to reports of a shooting. Another CHS student, age 17, was injured and treated at an area hospital.

According to MPD Chief Jimmy DeVaul, a detective from the department has been assigned to work with the ECPO on the investigation. Underhill Field, which is considered part of CHS, is currently closed to the public, and extra police coverage is being provided at CHS and Clinton Elementary School, which is located near Underhill.

“The mayor and I are working closely with the district leaders to assess their needs and to be helpful and (as) supportive as possible,” DeVaul said in an email to the News-Record on June 7. “The police department will meet with the school district leaders regularly to ensure their safety concerns are met and as much information is shared with them as possible.”

South Orange–Maplewood School District Superintendent Ronald Taylor said in a letter to the community that emergency protocols to provide mental health support have been activated at CHS, Clinton and Maplewood Middle School.

“We are making preparations for addressing the needs of our students, staff and families,” Taylor said. “I have notified our county executive superintendent of schools, and we are activating the County Grief Counseling Services via the Traumatic Loss Coalition, to support our students and staff.”

Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee wrote in a Facebook post on June 7 that he has been involved in conversations with the MPD and the school district’s administration since Sunday night. He said he could not comment on an ongoing investigation.

“As Columbia High School parents and members of our community, Marie and I are absolutely heartbroken. Our prayers go out to Moussa’s family, friends, teammates, classmates, the entire CHS community, our Maplewood–South Orange community and everyone impacted by this senseless and devastating loss due to gun violence,” McGehee said. “We are also keeping the other student who was injured in our thoughts. While there are still so many unanswered questions, we ask that everyone respect both families’ privacy at this very difficult time.”

According to the ECPO, no arrests have been made; the investigation is active and ongoing. Anyone with information can contact the prosecutor’s Homicide/Major Crimes Task Force at 877-847-7432. DeVaul also asked residents to share any information they may have.

“I ask our community to continue helping us find answers to this senseless murder. All tips and leads will be investigated to the fullest extent,” he said. “Information can be accepted anonymously or through community leaders as well. Do not presume that the police department is already aware of any particular information. This is not the time to be silent if you have information.”

Another way the community is helping is through a GoFundMe for Fofana’s family. The fundraising page can be accessed at https://tinyurl.com/k7da3eay and, as of June 10, has already raised more than $113,000.

“My name is Frederik and I am fundraising for Moussa Fofana’s family so that they can recover from their tragic loss and cover funeral expenses or any other burdens that came with this tragedy,” Frederik Hoffmann, who organized the fundraiser, wrote online. “We played soccer together for Columbia and played pickup games at Underhill. This young man was so bright and had big aspirations of becoming a professional soccer player; the community and I are lost for words. I am in contact with Moussa’s family and close friends and will make sure the money is given directly to them. Please donate whatever you can, as every dollar will help Moussa’s family. All of the money will be going straight to the Fofana family.”

Fofana’s mother, Bebe Hawa Fofana, is a local business owner, running Hawa Place of Fashion on Springfield Avenue.

“Hawa is undoubtedly the best hair braider in Maplewood and has raised Moussa and her youngest son in town,” the Springfield Avenue Partnership wrote in a condolences post on its Facebook page. “An immigrant from Liberia, she opened Hawa Place of Fashion and works tirelessly with clients coming to sit in her chair from near and far.”

Gov. Phil Murphy also addressed the shooting in his press briefing on June 7.

“I’m not up on the exact details but just want to acknowledge the tragedy that occurred in Maplewood last evening, in which an 18-year-old lost his life and a 17-year-old was injured,” Murphy said. “It’s another case of gun violence in our midst, and please keep him and his memory and their families in your prayers.”

According to the school district, “Moussa entered the district in 2014 as an ELL student and attended Maplewood Middle School; he later went on to attend Columbia High School, where he was a current junior. He was a member of the CHS Cougars varsity soccer team as No. 25, a friend, teammate, well-liked student, a son, a brother, and aspired to make it to a pro-soccer league. A consistent theme shared by all who knew Moussa was the joy he brought to everyone he encountered, to everything he did, and to life in general. Our entire district community is stunned and saddened by the senseless loss of life and this act of violence against our students. Moussa touched the lives of all that he encountered, and, in reviewing the news coverage from both TV and print, staff and students alike had only positive memories to share of his character and the impact he had in the lives of many.”

Various members of the school district community spoke warmly about Fofana.

“Moussa was beloved by everyone at MMS. He was always ready with a smile or a joke. He seemed to know everyone and everyone seemed to know him. He was kind of like the mayor of MMS. Somehow, he managed to interact with everyone who worked at our school almost every day,” MMS Principal Dara Gronau said. “He loved people and loved to ask questions — both silly and serious. He enjoyed connecting with other people. Moussa grew in so many ways in his three years with us. We were so proud of the progress he made and we will miss him dearly. We are heartbroken by this tragic loss. Truly, he is gone too soon. Our thoughts and prayers are with Moussa’s family and loved ones.”

“Even in a big school like Columbia, we all knew Moussa Fofana,” CHS Principal Frank Sanchez said. “That’s because his smile and gregarious personality lit up the hallways. He will be missed by his classmates and his teachers, but his spirit will not be forgotten. Right now, our focus is on his teammates and fellow classmates, to make sure they are processing this tremendous loss as best as possible.”

“The CHS soccer program is heartbroken by the senseless violence which has taken a teammate, a friend, a brother and a son away from this community,” Cougars soccer coach Ryan Muirhead said. “Moussa embodied everything that we wanted in a member of our program. His passion for the game was unrivaled, often speaking to his desires of playing professionally one day. Likewise, his love for his teammates also knew no limits, as everyone always knew Moussa had their back. He was the heart of a team that celebrated one of its best seasons in recent history this past fall. We will miss him dearly, not only for his skill but also for the joy he brought each and every one of us. Moussa could often be heard shouting his favorite phrase, ‘I am unstoppable, I am unbeatable … my name is Moussa!’ and now each and every one of us plan on continuing that legacy for him. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Fofana family.”

Photos Courtesy of SOMSD