South Orange and Maplewood community calls for ‘Justice for Moussa’

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MAPLEWOOD, NJ — More than a month after Columbia High School student Moussa Fofana was shot and killed at Underhill Field, no one has been arrested. Maplewood residents gathered with his family and friends at Ritzer Field on June 30 for a rally, asking anyone with information related to the crime to come forward. A reward being offered for information is up to $44,237.

Hawa Fofana, the victim’s mother, spoke at the rally and asked for help in learning what led to the murder. She described a time when a neighbor was new to their part of town, and her son baked the woman a cake to welcome her. Hawa Fofana said she didn’t know about the cake until a few weeks ago, when the neighbor told her about it.

“He was kind to everyone,” Hawa Fofana said. “He always wanted to take care of everyone that he loved. We want justice for this beautiful boy. I need everyone to help solve this puzzle.”

The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office has offered a $10,000 reward for information, which former Maplewood Mayor Fred Profeta matched with the start of the “Justice for Moussa Reward Fund.” The fund has raised more than double what the ECPO and Profeta pooled, now totaling $44,237. Profeta decided to start the fund after attending the memorial vigil at Ritzer Field a few weeks ago.

“My wife, Susan, and I couldn’t believe the outpouring of love from his friends and classmates and teachers,” Profeta said at the June 30 rally. “I’m sad I’ll never get to meet this remarkable young man.”

According to Profeta, people have donated amounts ranging from $10 to $10,000 to the reward fund.

“I don’t know where that will end up,” he said. “But more important than the reward is knowing that it’s there. That’s what shakes information out and gets it where it needs to go. That’s what will get justice for Moussa.”

In a statement on July 2, Maplewood Mayor Frank McGehee said the investigation is still active; there has not been a “stoppage, slow down or delay in any efforts to find the actor/actors responsible for this horrific and senseless act.”

McGehee said he has been in daily contact with Maplewood Police Chief Jimmy DeVaul and is in nearly daily contact with the Fofana family and the ECPO.

“Regarding the investigation itself, the ECPO is using a wide range of channels both physical and technical in their ongoing efforts. I have been assured that all leads will be exhausted,” McGehee said. “And while I recognize that we all want the same thing, justice for Moussa, as well as frequent updates, please understand that neither law enforcement nor I can communicate anything prematurely that would compromise the outcome of this investigation.”

Imam Sheick Swaray, from Masjid Fallahee in Newark, a Muslim mosque where the Fofana family are members, spoke at the rally and thanked the community for supporting Moussa Fofana’s mother.

“I am heartened that Maplewood is supporting her during this difficult time,” Swaray said. “When a mother loses a child, we all lose a child. Hear her pain, admire her strength. Moussa was a beautiful soul whose life was just getting started.”

Zebrai Nakyah Carlisle, a friend of the victim, spoke at the rally as well and asked for help in learning what happened.

“I cannot grasp this situation,” Carlisle said. “It makes no sense, because he was such a beautiful person. It makes no sense that his mom doesn’t know what happened. The least we can do is fight for him. Please continue to help in any way you can.”

Richard Pompelio’s son Tony was murdered in 1992 at the age of 17 and Pompelio, a lawyer, went on to start the New Jersey Crime Victims Law Center. The center provides pro bono legal assistance to victims of violent crime in the state. Pompelio explained how anonymous tip lines work, and the importance of coming forward.

“I want to express gratitude that you all came out,” Pompelio said. “There will be no quitting; there will be no stopping. We will never let the prosecutors call this a cold case. Not because we want the harshest punishment, not because we hate them, but because this boy who brought so much joy to so many deserves justice.”

Moussa Fofana played for the CHS soccer team, and his mother said in an interview with the News-Record at the event that he had dreams of becoming a professional.

“He spent time with his grandma in Africa, and when he came back he would tell her, ‘I want to take care of you; when I become a soccer player I’m going to build you a house,’” Hawa Fofana said.

She was heartened to see the hundreds of people who showed up to support her family at the rally, walking the three-quarters of a mile from Ritzer to Underhill behind her.

“It’s amazing seeing so many here,” she said. “It makes me happy.”

Moussa Fofana was a friendly teenager. “He was nice to everyone,” his mother said. “He was a people person. There was never sadness when Moussa was around. When he came in the room, everyone was happy.”

To share confidential information with the ECPO, call 877-847-7432.

Photos by Amanda Valentovic