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UPDATE: Stabbing, Fights on Boardwalks Mar Holiday Weekend; New Info Added

jpm5041/TikTok
Video shows teens fleeing the Ocean City boardwalk after a 15-year-old boy was stabbed on Saturday, May 25.

By Christopher South

Shore towns have been preparing for crowds of juveniles this season based on misbehavior in recent years, but this Memorial Day weekend started out with significant problems, including the stabbing of a 15-year-old boy on the Ocean City boardwalk.

Police along the Shore reacted to problems, whether real or rumored, from Seaside Heights to Wildwood, including a police shutdown of the Wildwood boardwalk in the early morning hours May 27.

The Ocean City Police Department issued a brief statement saying the youth was stabbed on Saturday, May 25, at around 9:12 p.m. Police were responding to a report of a large fight in the 1000 block of the boardwalk when they became aware of the stabbing. The victim was treated on the scene and then transported to AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center for further treatment.

Cape May County Prosecutor Jeffrey Sutherland said on Tuesday, May 28, that a suspect in the stabbing, who is believed to be a minor, has been identified. According to Sutherland, all the parties appear to be from Atlantic County and know each other.

The Police Department is still looking for the public’s assistance in providing information on the incident. The suspect in the stabbing has not yet been identified.

Police in Wildwood said at about 12:20 a.m. Monday, May 27, that they had shut down the boardwalk because of what they called “civil unrest.” Police did not elaborate on what type of incidents led to their being described as civil unrest, resulting in a state of emergency.

A Facebook user responded to a Herald query, saying there were “many fights (on the Wildwood boardwalk) and a few bad beatings, looting of stores and kids stampeding, pushing and running into people. These are firsthand reports from business owners … Kids drinking and smoking pot on the boardwalk and not obeying lawful orders from the police … This morning I already saw the usual suspects on the boardwalk smoking pot and loitering, bragging about how the police can’t make them move.”

The Wildwood boardwalk at around noon on Memorial Day. Everything appears to be back to normal after the city declared a state of emergency due to violent and disruptive behavior by large groups of young people.

Wildwood has a citywide 10 p.m. curfew for juveniles. In July 2023, Wildwood changed its juvenile curfew from 1 a.m. to midnight, before changing it to 10 p.m. Ocean City has an 11 p.m. curfew, but the fight and associated stabbing took place before the curfew hour.

In Seaside Heights, according to an article posed on lavallette-seaside.shorebeat.com, the town experienced a number of juvenile-related incidents before imposing its 10 p.m. curfew, and on Saturday, May 25, a loud noise thought to be a sound like a gunshot was heard. Police investigated and determined the report was a rumor, as confirmed by Seaside Heights Mayor Anthony Vaz.

Ocean City Mayor Jay Gillian issued a statement referring to a recent trend of Shore towns experiencing problems related to large crowds of teens on the boardwalk, including “fights, shoplifting and disorderly conduct during the start of Memorial Day Weekend.”

“I understand the impact that this behavior has on all of our residents, guests and business owners, and I want to assure everybody that Ocean City will not tolerate it,” Gillian said.

The mayor said the disturbance on the boardwalk May 25 resulted in multiple arrests, and that city Police Department officers were able to restore order after the teens involved in the incidents were removed from the boardwalk.

“We have a highly qualified team of officers on the boardwalk and throughout town, and they will enforce all laws to the fullest,” Gillian said. “Ocean City will always be welcoming to all guests, but I want to send a clear message to parents and to teens: ‘If you don’t want to behave, don’t come.’”

The Wildwood Police Department, Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr., Commissioner of Public Safety Steve Mikulski and Commissioner Krista McConnell issued a joined statement on the state of emergency.

The statement says the city Police Department attempted to respond to an “irrepressible number of calls” on the evening of Saturday, May 25, and that most of the calls were related to the extremely large number of young adults and juveniles who were in the city for the Memorial Day weekend.

The statement says that at the peak of what was deemed to be civil unrest, the Police Department sent out mutual aid requests to multiple agencies in Cape May County. On May 26, Police Chief Joseph Murphy advised the city commissioners along with the Wildwood emergency management coordinator that emergent conditions existed that were threatening the public health, safety and welfare of residents and visitors.

A local disaster emergency was declared around 12:20 a.m. May 27, when conditions again began to deteriorate despite the presence and efforts of police officers and multiple mutual aid law enforcement agencies.

“Through the enactment of a state of emergency during the early morning hours of May 27, 2024, which included the closure of the boardwalk, the City of Wildwood was able to effectively address numerous incidents of civil unrest and ensure the safety and welfare of our residents and visitors,” the statement reads.

It goes on to say that while the actions by the police might have inconvenienced some, the measures were necessary to maintain law and order.

Asked via text message if he was briefed on the state of emergency, Troiano said, “I ordered it.”

The mayor said that, on Memorial Day, he had already received offers of assistance from the office of Gov. Phil Murphy and the State Police, each asking what they could do to help.

Asked to clarify the conditions that were deemed “civil unrest,” Troiano replied, “Maybe the multiple fights and people that were beat up to unconsciousness.”

“We were lucky that there were not more people hurt with people stampeding down the boardwalk after one incident on Glenwood Avenue,” he said.

In the city’s statement, the mayor said, “Wildwood will not tolerate unruly, undisciplined, unparented children nor will we stand by while the laws of the state tie the hands of the police. We wholeheartedly support the City of Wildwood Police Department in protecting this community from these nuisance crowds on our boardwalk and in the city.”

Mikulski said, “We had measures in place ahead of the Sunday night crowds so that the Police Department could take these preemptive actions should the need arise. Unfortunately, the crowds necessitated the state of emergency to which our Police Department and other responding departments worked together to maintain order in the city.”

McConnell said, “We support our Police Department in taking any action necessary to control unruly teen crowds and will continue to collaborate with (State) Senator (Michael) Testa and other Shore towns on a task force to have these issues addressed at the state level.”

The state of emergency in Wildwood was withdrawn at 6 a.m. May 27.

Cape May County Fire Wire, a public Facebook group, announced that towns such as Cape May, Stone Harbor and Wildwood have enacted 10 p.m. curfews for individuals under 18. The curfews generally run until 6 a.m., and violators are subject to fines of up to $1,000. According to a Breaking AC article, Ocean City acted in 2023 to close beaches at 8 p.m. and has an 11 p.m. curfew.

The Breaking AC article also said that, after the Ocean City stabbing, there were reports of multiple fights and crowds of teens running to where the fights were happening. Images showed Ocean City police making several arrests.

An individual on Facebook reported seeing video of a group of youths beating another youth on the boardwalk. Another reported juveniles “flipping off police” after being told of the curfew, and “being destructive.”

Leonard Desiderio, director of the Cape May County Board of County Commissioners and also mayor of Sea Isle City — which also has dealt with increasingly bad juvenile behavior over the last couple of years — said he watched in horror as videos were being posted depicting what was happening over the Memorial Day weekend.

Desiderio has been speaking at county chamber of commerce events, including a tourism update meeting earlier this month, and expressed hopefulness for a stellar 2024 tourism season. He said the videos showed “a few violent, lawless young people walking our boardwalks looking for innocent victims to terrorize and assault. We also saw this in other parts of the state on other boardwalks.”

He praised local law enforcement for taking quick action to restore the peace, crediting their training and pre-planning put in place over the past few summers, without which, he said, things would have been worse than they were.

However, he said, there is still way too much of this type of disruption in tourist-gathering areas. He said he would be again meeting with the county prosecutor and sheriff to discuss how county resources can be used to supplement local law enforcement efforts.

“Our prosecutor and our sheriff have provided such assistance in the past, and we will see what more can be done to help our municipalities,” Desiderio said.

In 2021, Desiderio convened a meeting of all Cape May County municipalities and its state legislators to try to find a workable solution to the problem. He said he would again be reaching out to all mayors and state legislators.

“We will not tolerate this, and we will not let these thugs steal summer from our families, our businesses, and our visiting friends,” he said.

The Wildwood Police Department advises the public that complaints of any nature can be reported to the non-emergency police line at 609-522-0222, or, for emergencies, at 911.

The Ocean City Police Department is asking anyone with information about the May 25 stabbing to call the Detective Bureau at 609-525-9129.

Contact the reporter, Christopher South, at csouth@cmcherald.com or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.

Reporter

Christopher South is a reporter for the Cape May County Herald.

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