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School Attack Survivor Testifies At New Jersey Civil Trial

(Credit: Thinkstock)

(Credit: Thinkstock)

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The survivor of a vicious 2007 schoolyard attack that left three college-bound friends dead still suffers from nightmares and depression from the ambush, though she has been able to graduate from college and hold a job.

Those details emerged Tuesday during the survivor’s second day of testimony at a civil trial. She isn’t being identified by The Associated Press because of sexual assault charges against two of the six attackers. The trial is in its fourth week.

The families of Terrance Aeriel, Dashon Harvey and Iofemi Hightower have sued the Newark school district, former schools superintendent Marion Bolden and the state, which oversees Newark’s schools. They claim the district was negligent because it left the Mount Vernon School playground open on the night of Aug. 4, 2007, when it was a known gang hangout.

On Tuesday, the survivor described being unable to continue playing in the marching band at Delaware State University because of gunshot and knife injuries she suffered during the attack that required several surgeries. She also described recurring nightmares about Hightower, her close friend.

“I’m running and running and running and I’m just saying, ‘Talk to me, talk to me,’” she told jurors under cross-examination. “But I can’t ever get her to sit down and talk. I want to talk to her, I want to touch her, I want to hug her.”

She also described being tormented by the way Hightower was slashed with a machete before she died, and wondering why she had to endure that pain alone.

On a positive note, she told jurors how she graduated with a degree in psychology and has been working as a mental health associate at a local hospital.

She and the three murder victims, high school friends from Newark who played in school marching bands and had been enrolled or were about to enroll at Delaware State, were robbed at gunpoint before three were led down a flight of stairs and shot as they kneeled in front of a wall. Outrage following the murders helped spur the adoption of many anti-crime measures in Newark that were credited with temporarily lowering the violent crime rate.

At issue in the civil trial is whether the school district was liable for securing the schoolyard during non-school hours. Earlier in the trial, school district officials and security guards offered conflicting testimony on policies governing the locking of the schoolyard gates. A Newark city councilman testified he wrote to the schools superintendent less than two weeks before the murders to express concern about the graffiti-scarred playground being dangerous at night.

The survivor testified she and her friends drove in through the open gates on the night of the attack and parked their car near some bleachers. Under re-direct questioning by an attorney representing the families, she said she wouldn’t have entered the playground if the gates had been locked.

All six defendants were convicted or pleaded guilty and are serving a combined 1,082 years in prison.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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