Joanne Valme is still coping with the reality. Her friend, 17-year-old Dejour Benson, is gone.
“Right now I’m just really sad,” she said. “To lose a friend that didn’t graduate High School yet.”
Benson was a Senior and football player at Willingboro High School as well as the son of one of the school’s security officers.
“He was doing extremely well,” said Valme. “His father was extremely proud of him.”
Family members say Benson was hired as a DJ for a private party inside a Zumba fitness studio at the East Ridge Plaza on Friday. Benson was standing in the parking lot shortly before 11:30 p.m. when teens from out of town crashed the party which led to an altercation, according to witnesses.
“Some kids from Burlington City crashed in,” said Joel Valme, a family friend. “They started bullying each other and they started a fight.”
During the commotion, witnesses say a driver trying to get out of the parking lot, ran into Benson. Benson was taken to Cooper University Hospital where he died from his injuries.
Witnesses say the driver and Benson knew each other. Police have not yet confirmed whether the driver intentionally struck the teen though friends of Benson claim he is extremely distraught. The driver has not yet been charged.
Business owners inside the plaza say they found broken beer bottles outside the studio, leading to speculation that drinking was involved.
Joseph Poole, the man who leased the studio for the party, denies that any alcohol was served however. He also says 45 students attended and there was adult supervision.
Raymond Beltz, the owner of the studio, claims he never gave permission for a party to take place.
"I did not know there was going to be a party ahead of time," said Beltz. "Only on Monday did I realize a death was involved, which is horrible. The party had been dismissed as I understand."
“We weren't drinking,” said Brandon Reed, a friend of Benson’s who was in the parking lot when Benson was hit. "I don't know if anyone else was."
Police have not yet confirmed whether drinking played a role or if there was a fight before Benson was killed. They continue to investigate.
A candlelight vigil was held for the teen on Saturday and grief counselors were brought in to the high school on Monday. Benson’s funeral will take place on Thursday.