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Northfield boy receives cards, gifts from community after racist, verbal attack
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Northfield boy receives cards, gifts from community after racist, verbal attack

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Devin Santiago 11 from Northfield, was verbally, racially attacked by a man outside Tilton Market in Northfield. After his mom, Yisela Santiago shared his experience on a Northfield community Facebook page, a group of moms came together and had their kids make cards for him, that expressed positive, and sent them to Devin

NORTHFIELD — Yisela Santiago picked up her 11-year-old son, Devin, from school a few weeks ago, got him lunch and quickly stopped at Tilton Market on Tilton Road, to get ribs for dinner.

“Devin wasn’t done his lunch yet, and he has chronic asthma, so I don’t really like taking him into supermarkets (due to the COVID-19 pandemic),” she said. “I left him in the car. He had his cell phone, and I was literally in there for five minutes, if that.”

When she walked out of the store she noticed a man pulling out of the parking lot yelling profanity at her. When she got into her car, she noticed Devin shaking and crying. Devin, who is a sixth grader at Northfield Community School, said the man called him a racial slur, cursed at him and told him to go back to his country while hitting Yisela’s car with his own car door.

“The cars were really close, so he had to open his door a little bit to squeeze in, but he just opened it all the way and hit our car,” said Devin, who is of Puerto Rican and Dominican descent.

After the incident, Yisela drove to the police station to file a police report. From Devin’s description of the man, police were able to identify him from the store’s security cameras, Yisela said.

“Apparently when the police called him, he said that he didn’t like the fact that my car was parked too close to his,” she said.

A spokesman for the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office said it has received a report of the incident and that the Northfield Police Department and Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office are investigating. The ACPO referred all questions to the Northfield Police Department.

The matter remains under investigation, Northfield Police Chief Paul Newman said in an email. No charges have been filed, he said, but Santiago could press charges if she desired. As of Monday, there was no update on the investigation.

It is unclear what charges those would be. According Shira Goodman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia office, hate speech is protected under the First Amendment.

“It doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have a serious impact and that there is no harm done,” she said. “But there is value in speaking out about it. There is value in the mother telling the story and the community coming together and saying, ‘This isn’t who we are. This isn’t what we stand for.’”

In the heat of the moment, Yisela posted on a Northfield community Facebook page to vent about the incident. She eventually deleted the post, but not before some community members saw it.

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“I felt so horrible,” said city resident Mary Foltz. “Just hearing the story broke my heart that that young boy had to experience that.”

Not even knowing the Santiago family, she wanted to give back.

When she couldn’t shake what had happened to Devin, Foltz posted on her personal page and asked if anyone wanted to send him gifts “to overshadow what had happened to him with the gesture of love.”

“I wanted to let him know that he’s cared for, that the incident doesn’t have to define anything and to show him kindness. That’s the lesson he can take away,” she said.

From Foltz, and others, Devin received about 10 drawings and cards, gift cards, money, cookies and an Edible Arrangement.

“I was just shocked,” Devin said. “I was just confused. I didn’t think anyone would send me cards.”

Resident Randi Wall also saw the post and immediately reached out to Yisela. Wall’s son, Mason White, goes to school with Devin.

“Devin is the one of the most sweetest boys I could ever imagine,” Randi Wall said. “For something to happen to him of all people is beyond shocking. You see this stuff happening nationally, but when it happens in your own community, it’s a punch in the gut.”

When reading the post, Wall’s kids, who are all under 12, saw that she was visibly upset and asked what had happened.

“I tried to explain it as kid-friendly as I could,” she said. “I explained that there’s some pretty nasty people in the world, but it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from, you have to be kind to all.”

After hearing what had happened to Devin, Mason also wanted to send him a gift to cheer him up. In a collective effort, Foltz collected the cards from her friends, gave them to Wall and she and Mason delivered them to Devin.

“It was a little reminder that we need to be nice to one another,” Wall said. “We need to remember that kindness is at the forefront. There’s always going to be mean people in the world, but despite all of that, despite of all the bad, despite all of the nastiness ... there’s still good.”

Yisela was grateful the small gesture made Devin happy.

“Thank you to the people that took their time to do such a small, beautiful gesture for my little boy,” she added. “It really did touch us.”

“It made me realize that there’s so many good people (compared to) bad people,” Devin added. “There could be one bad person, but there’s so many more good people.”

Contact CJ Fairfield:

609-272-7239

Cfairfield@pressofac.com

Twitter @ACPress_CJ

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