BERKELEY TWP. – Devastated community members packed the auditorium of Central Regional High School (CRHS) tonight to condemn the School Board and administration for failing to protect the health and safety of students.
Adriana Kuch committed suicide three days after four of her CRHS classmates assaulted her in the hallway of the high school, and then posted a social media video of the assault to shame the victim. In tears, many students and former students lashed out at the board as they described a culture of incompetence and unaccountability by adults in power who fail to see – or hear – suffering children in their midst.
“I used to be a student here,” said Halie Engesser (above, center). “I moved away because of gun threats made on me by another student – and now I’m back because Adriana was a friend of mine. I’m wearing her sweatshirt right now. I got the call at seven in the morning. I was in denial. I was supposed to hang out with her last week. She wanted to be a tattoo artist. She never liked any violence.”
InsiderNJ asked Engesser about her message for the school administration.
“Enforce the bullying policy so people don’t feel alone,” she said.
One by one, people went to the two microphones in the auditorium to offer their personal testimonies about violence in the school they tried to cope with, mostly perpetrated by other students. They all had a common denominator, these stories. When the students or parents went to the school administration seeking intervention, no one did anything, they said.
Many of the children say they are scared to walk the halls.
“These children do not feel safe coming to school,” said parent John Galifi of Bayville. “Your job is to care – to the best of your abilities. … If you are always fighting the parents, you are putting your focus in the wrong place. Stop trying to fix problems by punishing the innocent.”
At this regularly scheduled board meeting following a press conference by the acting superintendent, applause greeted Galifi’s remark.
The crowd was angry from the beginning of the meeting – and hurt.
Milo Lugo joined others in describing her misery in the school district. “I’ve been bullied every day since the second grade, since I’ve been at this school,” she said. “I’ve had people try to jump me because I’m gay.”
Shawn Van Horn (pictured, below) condemned the board for failing to act on repeated complaints about her bullied child, and suggested they are trying to protect the child of a police lieutenant in town.
Emily Bush, a former student (top), described the scarring she endured as a consequence of going to school at Central Regional High School.
She had a message for the board.
“F-ck you,” she said bluntly.
Echo McNichols needed to be supported on either side by friends as she made her statement at the microphone. She seemed barely able to stand under the weight of her grief at having been subjected to mental abuse over the years.
One by one.
The weight of children in pain preyed on the night.
The memory of Adriana Kuch persecuted the room.
No one could face the idea of another precious young life lost, as parents and students alike desperately offered suggestions for how the school might protect the unprotected.
If more than one person attacks another child, those assailants should be charged with assault with a deadly weapon, said one parent. Fathers should patrol the hallways, said a student who goes to school in constant fear.
No one else should live like this, they said, and no one else should die like Adriana Kuch.
Photos by Carina Pizarro.