FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Anthony
April 7, 2008 973-621-2542
ESSEX COUNTY EXECUTIVE DIVINCENZO HONORS FOUR NEWARK STUDENTS
WITH DEDICATION OF COMMUNITY GARDEN IN ESSEX COUNTY IVY HILL
Garden will be a Lasting Tribute and a Place of Reflection for the Community
NEWARK, NJ – Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo, Jr. paid tribute to the four
Newark students shot in the Mount Vernon School playground last summer with the dedication of
a beautifully landscaped garden in Essex County Ivy Hill Park in Newark during a moving
ceremony on Monday, April 7th. Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower were
killed and Natasha Aeriel was severely wounded in the August 4, 2007, attack.
“The promising future of three young lives was lost, one girl’s future was changed forever and
our community was shaken by that one senseless act of violence. The lives of Terrance Aeriel,
Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower and the heroism of Natasha Aeriel are an inspiration for us
all and should not be forgotten,” DiVincenzo said. “This beautiful garden will provide current
residents and future generations with a place to reflect and find solace. We hope this will become
a revered place that will have a positive effect on the neighborhood and influence other young
people to steer clear of gangs and violence, and follow a productive path,” he added.
“We thank everyone for their support during our tragedy,” said Shagla Hightower, mother of
Iofemi Hightower. “Today is not a sad day. This is a celebration to honor and remember the four
angels. We ask everyone not to look back in anger or look forward with fear, but to look with
awareness,” she added.
“The Aeriel family sends their love and deepest gratitude for this beautiful expression of love,”
said Christine Jackson, a family friend. “Essex County has put love into action. We thank you for
remembering the families and what their children stand for,” she added.
“It is truly touching when you see so many children touched by this incident,” said James Harvey,
father of Dashon Harvey. “Our kids were taken away from us, but it meant change and that is a
positive thing. We thank the County Executive for his vision to have something to rejoice. To
have this park right across the street from the school will encourage our youth to keep striving to
be successful,” he added.
The garden is located at the north entrance of Essex County’s Ivy Hill Park on Mount Vernon
Place – directly across the street from Mount Vernon Elementary School. A triangular stone wall
– the three sides of the wall symbolizing Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower
– makes up the center of the garden. Three messages are placed on the face of each wall: “In
memory of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower;” “Your Hopes and Dreams
will Lift our Community;” and “Each Day, You will be Remembered.” On the three outer sides of
the garden, trees are planted in groups of three, again to symbolize the three students who lost
A fourth stone wall that is part of the garden is meant to honor the bravery and heroism of
Natasha Aeriel, a fourth student who was seriously wounded during the August 4, 2007 attack.
While recovering in the hospital, Natasha Aeriel worked with police to identify the suspects. The
inscription on the fourth wall reads: “With thanks for the Loving and Courageous Heart of
The park pathways near the garden have been reconstructed with ornamental brick pavers and
new landscaping, park benches and ornamental lighting has been installed. Construction began in
November 2007 and was completed during the winter. Landscaping was planted this spring.
“These children were on a path of innocence when violence intruded,” Senator Frank Lautenberg
said. “In this garden memorial, may we be encouraged to condemn violence and celebrate life,
and never allow violent acts like this occur again,” he added.
“I thank the County Executive for building this park that is testimony to these four spirits. This
park will ensure their spirits endure,” Newark Mayor Cory Booker said. “Their loss of life
challenged the community to not let them die in vain and do what is necessary to change the
neighborhood. What should be remembered are the live and spirits of the children. Remember
and celebrate the love of those children,” he said.
During the celebration, the student choir from Mt. Vernon Elementary School sang “Let There be
Peace on Earth” and “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” In addition, Mark Beckett, Performing Arts
Teacher at the Essex County Vocational School in West Caldwell sang the “National Anthem”
and “Stand.” The Reverand Ron Christian gave the invocation and blessed the site as a memorial
to the four students.
Barreto/Dowd Landscape Architects of Howell designed the Memorial Garden. Shauger Property
Services of East Orange received a competitively bid contract for $347,000 to perform the
construction work. The Essex County Department of Public Works supervised the project and
worked with the vendors to ensure problems were solved efficiently and delays were avoided.
The Memorial Garden was funded with a $173,500 grant from the New Jersey Green Acres
program and a $173,500 grant from the Essex County Recreation and Open Space Trust Fund.
Revitalizing Essex County Ivy Hill Park
The three baseball/softball fields received an extensive $1.1 million overhaul in 2005. One of the
fields received a synthetic grass surface, press box, scoreboard and dugout, while the other two
fields received new sports fencing. A subsurface drainage system for the entire complex was
installed to alleviate flooding. In addition, one existing basketball court near Mount Vernon Place
has been replaced with two new basketball courts that are equipped with new lights and players’
In 2003, Essex County spent $105,000 to install a rubberized safety surface in the Ivy Hill
playground. The project was part of a $2.5 million initiative by DiVincenzo to upgrade all
playgrounds in the Essex County Park System so they met the highest national safety standards.
The Essex County Park System was created in 1895 and is the first county park system
established in the United States. The Park System consists of more than 6,000 acres and has 17
parks, five reservations, an environmental center, a zoo, ice skating rink, roller skating rink, three
public golf courses, golf driving range, three off-leash dog facilities and a castle. Essex County
purchased land for Ivy Hill Park in 1927. At 18.96 acres, the park is the fourth smallest in the
Essex County Park System.