Linden community grapples with tragedy

Friends of School No. 4 classmates link arms and comfort each other as they light their candles in memory of Oshiobugie ‘Shobie’ Asekomhe.
Friends of School No. 4 classmates link arms and comfort each other as they light their candles in memory of Oshiobugie ‘Shobie’ Asekomhe.

LINDEN, NJ — A candlelight vigil was held this past Saturday for 9-year-old Oshiobugie “Shobie” Asekomhe as community leadership, teachers, police officers and firefighters, and members of the Linden community gathered to remember the beloved third-grader who succumbed to carbon monoxide poisoning last week. His 11-year-old sister, Emike, remains in critical condition.

The children were discovered by their mother, who found them unresponsive in their bedroom at their Passaic Avenue home.

Police arrived at the home at 7:25 a.m. last Tuesday, and Shobie was rushed to Trinitas Hospital where he was pronounced dead. His sister remains at Newark Beth Israel Hospital.

The Linden Fire Department responded to the house and found high levels of carbon monoxide in the bedroom where the children were sleeping. It was found that the carbon monoxide came from a leak in the home boiler, above which the children’s bedroom was situated.

Anthony Cataline, principal of Linden Elementary School No. 4 which Shobie attended, said that the school has had grief counselors and social workers in the school all last week to help students cope with the tragedy. “We had grief counselors from the Traumatic Loss Coalition from Trinitas,” said Cataline. “In addition, we had our own supervisor from personnel services, our own social workers, and others.”

Cataline told LocalSource that the school began the healing process by going from class to class, speaking to teachers and students, and each teacher was given a prepared statement to read to their class. “The kids are all extremely shocked and upset,” said Cataline. “The really young kids were really not quite understanding what was going on.”

Cataline said that the Trinitas coalition took groups of eight to 10 kids into the school’s library and worked with each group privately. In addition, a recorded message was sent out to parents, asking them to discuss the tragedy with their children. “It’s been a very somber mood,” said Cataline.

According to Cataline, the school’s spring concert — in which Shobie would have been a part in his role as band drum player — will be held next week, although the administration had considered cancelling the event. “We pondered whether to cancel it,” said Cataline. “But the feeling was that it would be part of the healing process to continue on with the concert. The school community felt that the concert was a good thing to do,” he said.

In response to the tragedy, the fire department is continuing in its efforts to spread awareness about carbon monoxide throughout the community. Councilwoman Michele Yamakaitis said that the council will be working with the department to educate the public about carbon monoxide prevention. “We’re going to make this a priority,” said Yamakaitis. “Our fire department is very good with this and we’re going to get this incorporated somehow.”

Dooley said that people tend to focus a lot on fire prevention and smoke detectors, but not as much on carbon monoxide detectors or its prevention. “Our first message is that everyone should have working carbon monoxide detectors with working batteries in their homes,” said Dooley. “The other aspect of this is prevention. That’s the real goal. We spend lots of time on fires. We could spend more time on carbon monoxide.”

Dooley reiterates that preventative measures include checking home appliances such as dryers, boilers, hot water heaters, and furnaces — any appliance that burns fuel. “It’s a two-pronged approach: Having detectors, and maintenance of these appliances that can generate this carbon monoxide. Heating systems must be maintained on a regular basis,” he said.

Dooley also urges residents to have their chimneys regularly cleaned, and says that those who have converted from oil heat to natural gas must get their chimneys checked. “When you switch to natural gas, lots of moisture gets into the scale of the chimney,” Dooley said. “The scale drops down and blocks the flow of air.”

Police Capt. James Sarnicki said the great danger with carbon monoxide is that it is odorless. “You’re not going to realize that you’re inhaling it until it’s too late,” said Sarnicki. “We can’t overemphasize to people the need for working carbon monoxide detectors.”

Linden Mayor Derek Armstead told LocalSource that the tragedy is one of the most difficult things he has experienced since taking office. “It’s truly the most difficult thing I ever had to deal with as an elected official,” said Armstead. “I can’t even imagine what the family is going through. It has truly been a difficult time as mayor. I can’t even imagine what the family is going through. A young person passing away like this is not the natural order of things.”

Armstead said that he has donated $1,000 through his charities to the Asekomhe family, and that he wants the family to know that the Linden community is here for them. “We are here to help in any way we can,” said Armstead. “This family will need the support of the community for quite some time.”

Cataline said that the school community continues to struggle with the loss of two beloved students. “Not only are we missing Shobie, but we are missing Emike as well,” said Cataline. “We’re all taking a deep breath. They were wonderful children — good students, very involved. Emike was vice president of the Kiwanis club. Both of them are missed.”

Cataline, who has been with the district for more than 30 years, said that the district has never been through something like this. “In my tenure, this is the first experience like this that I have ever lived through,” said Cataline. “This is probably one of the most difficult things someone could go through. It’s very emotional for the parents, the teachers — everyone. People are now on the edge of their seats hoping that Emike will come back,” he said of the fifth grader still in critical condition. “We are waiting for Emike to come back.”

The funeral for Shobie was held on Monday at Las Rosas Bannworth funeral home. The township has set up a Go Fund Me page for the Asekomhe family to help pay for funeral and medical costs. For more information, visit www.gofundme.com/22rcg6s.

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