By John Burton
KEANSBURG — A small group of people, largely Keansburg residents but not exclusively, quiet and somber – as if in a house of worship – stood in front of McGrath Towers housing complex to pay their respects and reflect on the horrible events of last week and to remember an 11-year-old taken too soon and in a shockingly violent way.
At the apartment complex’s 25 Hancock St. site, people gathered at a makeshift memorial made up of balloons, stuffed animals, sympathy cards, photos and candles being lit as the sun set on July 15. Some were willing to offer thoughts about AbbieGail “Abbie” Smith, 11, who lived at the affordable housing project’s 16 Hancock St. location, and was stabbed to death sometime between the evening of July 12 and the following morning.
“Basically, it’s another senseless killing of a child,” observed Keansburg resident Robert Nugent, as he placed candles at the memorial.
Nugent was joined by his wife, Daisy; both had lived in Keansburg for a number of years, but didn’t know AbbieGail or the Smith family. But the couple felt it was imperative to publicly express their feelings. “I think it is important,” Daisy responded when asked why she was there. “It was one of our children. It’s a tragedy.”
Brianna Cooper, 11 years old, came with family members. She attended the public school district’s Joseph R. Bolger Middle School with AbbieGail. “She was my best friend,” Brianna said, her eyes welling up with tears. Brianna said her friend “was always happy; she was always smiling,” and loved music and dancing. “She was just so amazing and caring,” Brianna said of AbbieGail, also confiding, “she was the only one who defended me against the bullies in school.
“She was so good,” Brianna said.
Keansburg police responded to a report coming in at approximately 9:24 p.m. on July 12 of a missing child at the 16 Hancock St. complex. Local authorities contacted the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office in the early hours of the following morning, mounting a joint investigation in their search for the girl.
While investigators, joined by the prosecutor’s Forensic and Technical Services Bureau, continued their probe into the circumstances surrounding the disappearance, at roughly 10:20 a.m. they discovered on the roof area of the complex where the Smith family resided, an object wrapped in a blanket or comforter, according to the prosecutor’s office. Wrapped in the blanket was what authorities said was a deceased human body, a short time later identified by the Middlesex County Medical Examiner’s Office as the remains of AbbieGail Smith.
Later that same day, law enforcement authorities arrested Andreas Erazo, an 18-year-old man who lived upstairs from the victim and her family. According to the prosecutor’s office, Erazo was charged with first degree murder, third degree possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and fourth degree unlawful possession of a weapon allegedly in connection with the child’s death.
The medical examiner’s report concluded AbbieGail died as a result of a stab wound to the neck, according to Charles Webster, a spokesman for the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office. No other details from the report were immediately released.
Erazo, a slightly built teen, sporting a bushy haircut and wispy mustache and goatee, wearing handcuffs around his wrists, entered state Superior Court on Friday, July 14, for his initial appearance. The courtroom was packed largely with media representatives, including TV cameras, and the victim’s family. In a brief, perfunctory hearing, Judge Richard W. English laid out for the suspect the charges and his rights, with Erazo offering soft spoken and minimal responses that he understood and acknowledged he would like to have a public defender as his legal counsel.
Seeing Erazo, the victim’s mother was emotional. “You need to rot in jail! You murdered my daughter!” she shouted in a heavy Jamaican accent, and was then led out of the courtroom surrounded by family members.
Erazo was initially scheduled to once again appear before English on Wednesday, July 19, for a bail hearing; that hearing was delayed until Friday, July 28, at the request of Erazo’s lawyer.
Afterwards, during a hastily convened press conference on the courthouse lawn in Freehold Borough, Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni told the gathering of reporters, “This is one of the worst crimes I’ve seen,” during his five-year tenure with the prosecutor’s office.
“By all accounts she was a lovely, lovely little girl,” the prosecutor said of AbbieGail.
“We represent the state without passion or prejudice, but that doesn’t make us any less human,” he said as his colleagues, most with their own families, look to continue their emotionally difficult investigation.
Gramiccioni was expectedly tightlipped on details, given the investigation is ongoing. But he did acknowledge “there’s no reason to believe” anyone else was involved in the crime; and investigators have collected considerable physical evidence and interviews allegedly linking Erazo to the crime.
Gramiccioni requested the media respect the family’s wishes for privacy at this time. “They did ask me to convey to the public and the media what they want out of this is justice and it’s my job and my staff’s job to do the best at delivering that for them,” he added.
“We’ll get details out in an appropriate time and manner,” he said.
John J. Niesz, Keansburg’s superintendent of schools, issued a statement, posted on the district’s website, where Niesz said, “AbbieGail was a wonderful young girl who was a Titan through and through,” referring to the district’s mascot. “She will be greatly missed by the entire Keansburg School District family, especially her friends and family.”
The district will provide grief counseling at the Bolger Middle School to help students dealing with the loss, Niesz’s statement indicated.
Maribel Batista lives in East Brunswick but drives her ice cream truck through the borough where her parents continue to live, just a couple of blocks away from the site. She pulled up to Hancock Street in the ice cream truck placing a small item at the memorial. “I have four kids myself. I can’t stop thinking about this,” she said. “I can’t imagine what the family is going through.”
Tommy Brown drove from Newark where he lives, not knowing the family but feeling a need to offer some small condolences. “I can’t understand this, an 11-year-old girl getting stabbed,” Brown said. “You have to ask yourself, why?”
“I don’t know how you can do something like this,” said Keansburg resident Antonietta Carbone, speaking of the crime. Looking at the group gathered Carbone offered, “I just hope everybody comes out and joins together…Even if we don’t know each other.”
“Hopefully, it shows the mother that people do care,” Robert Nugent said, “and are behind her 100 percent.”
Funeral Services Announced
Funeral services for AbbieGail Kaylea Smith will be from 2 to 6 p.m. Sunday, July 23 at the Jacqueline M. Ryan Home for Funerals, 233 Carr Ave., Keansburg.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:15 a.m. Monday at St. Ann’s Church, Keansburg. Burial to follow at Bayview Cemetery, Leonardo.
In lieu of flowers the family will be accepting donations in AbbieGail’s name for a scholarship fund. Letters of condolences can be sent to www.jacquelinemryanfh.com.
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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