To family and friends of Jonelle Melton, a Social Studies teacher at Red Bank Middle School, she was a bubbly, butterfly-loving, history-obsessed soul who put her students before everything.
Six years since her murder, three men have been charged, and those closest to her shared their fondest memories of Melton, 33, and the long reaching influence her tragically short life had on theirs at Calvary Baptist Church on Dec. 18.
“Not only was she a teacher, but she was my school mother … she always told me try and better myself, to continue to do you, stay on the right path, don’t be like everybody else,” said Nacier Roundtree, who was one of Melton’s students and is currently in college. “She was a teacher, and I am going to be a teacher to continue her legacy,” Roundtree said.
Other former students echoed the sentiment.
“Every time my friends and I mention her, it’s always good memories, her laugh, her smile. Even though we are past our middle school days and some of us are well into our university years, she still plays an important part in our lives,” Mario Williams said, who also spoke to the gathering of around 50 people.
“The blessing with Jonelle is even though you’re feeling low and sad and missing her like crazy, you’ll start laughing because there’s humor in all of it; she was such a wonderful and beautiful person. She brought color, life and feeling into the room. She could not be with you and you not be changed,” Toni Graham, who was one of Melton’s friends, said.
Graham also joked about Melton’s love for history.
“I never saw anybody go down to Virginia, where George Washington [lived] and listen to the lectures about Washington’s slaves and she acted like she was going to the Bahamas. She was so excited wanting to tell me about the trip,” said Graham.
“I just think this is a positive way to show her family that we still support them,” said Linda Clark, who helped to organize the event with Tiffaney Harris.
The night was also dedicated to thanking law enforcement for staying with the case and charging three men in the killing of Melton: From the Monmouth County Prosecutor’s Office Det. Daniel Baldwin, Det. Scott Samis, Sgt. Michael Magliozzo, Sgt. Shannon Kavanaugh, Lt. Jeffery Wilbert, and Capt. Douglas Johnson. According to those who worked on the case, the investigation is not over.
“These types of crime are so terrible. … We tried not to let this case be personal, but it was. This case continues to move forward … [the case] is not over yet,” Samis said.
“All we wanted to do was bring closure to the family; now we need to bring justice in the case of Jonelle.”
The Neptune City Police Department was also honored, represented by Det. Hoover Cano and Lt. Matthew Quagliato. Melton was a resident of Neptune City.
On Nov. 19, the Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni announced that three men from Asbury Park had been charged with the murder. The investigation found that James Fair, 27, Ebenezer Byrd, 35, and Gregory Jean-Baptiste, 26, had planned to rob another apartment in the Brighton Arms complex in Neptune. The men mistakenly broke into Melton’s apartment and allegedly murdered her. The three are currently awaiting a grand jury hearing.
Contact Michael Nunes at firstname.lastname@example.org.