As daylight faded into dusk, about 80 people gathered at the municipal complex gazebo last Thursday night for a candlelight vigil to remember the light of Christine Solaro, 37, who was allegedly fatally shot by estranged husband Acting Newark Police Lt. John Formisano, 49, on July 14.
They came together in their collective grief to pray, to reflect and to begin the healing process, as the small rural community struggles to process the tragic events of three weeks ago. “It’s been a difficult few weeks,” vigil organizer Angela Lamendola said. “Jefferson has been shaken to its core by recent events, ending in the passing of Christie Solaro.”
Lamendola added that the community doesn’t think of itself as that type of place.
“Jefferson is a sleepy town. My friends and I jokingly and lovingly refer to it as Mayberry,” she said. “Stuff like this doesn’t happen here. Only it does happen here. It did happen here.”
Lighting a purple candle in front of a portrait of Solaro, Lamendola said that purple is the color designated for domestic violence and that she was surprised to learn how pervasive a problem it is in Jefferson Township.
Since Solaro’s death, Lamendola said she has learned that the town is in the top third in Morris County in terms of domestic violence occurrences.
According to county domestic violence statistics filed with the state Attorney General’s Office, Morris County had 604 total original investigations in 2018, 254 of which were pending or inactive at the beginning of the year.
Seventy-nine defendants in original investigations were criminally charged through accusation.
A breakdown by municipality was not available.
“Now is the time for healing, now is the time for hope,” she said. “For those of you who knew Christie, as I did, I am so very sorry for your loss and the anguish you are coping with right now. God knows I’m feeling it too.”
Whether it was meeting up for coffee or for their daughters’ playdates, or sending internet memes via group chat, Lamendola said that Solaro was a daily fixture in her life.
“It’s a void I felt immediately and feel immensely,” she said of Solaro’s death.
Solaro was a dedicated mother, Lamendola said, who fought for her children and was fiercely protective of them.
“Those kids were her whole world,” she said. “There was nothing she wouldn’t have done for them.”
A great friend who made everything better just by being there, Solaro was there both to make you laugh and pick you up when you were down.
“Christie had a light within her that shined so bright it was a beacon of joy,” Lamendola said. “This candle I’ve lit up here represents that light. I will now use it to light my vigil candle.”
“We’ll continue to pass this light, from person to person, until we are all basking in the glow of Christie’s light,” she said.
Whether strangers, acquaintances, neighbors or friends, those in attendance passed the light of the candles from one to the next until all were lit.
A prayer of hope was then read by Rev. Ellen Mearns Bechtold, pastor of Milton United Methodist Church.
Following Bechtold’s prayer, Mayor Eric Wilsusen read a poem aloud called “Feel No Guilt in Laughter,” as the glowing candles illuminated the somber faces of those in attendance.
“The community of Jefferson Township mourns Christie’s passing, but we also celebrate her life,” he said, before reading the poem.
Recognizing that it might be more difficult in light of the circumstances, Lamendola sang “I Have This Hope,” in honor of the woman she called a friend.
At the conclusion of Lamendola’s song, people were invited to share memories of Solaro with those gathered.
Holding back tears, Cathy Guida, of Morris Plains, said she and Christie had a friendship that went back to the ninth grade.
“We’ve been through a lot together and she was the most amazing person you would ever want to meet,” she said. “There was a little bit of time there where we kind of drifted apart, but we found our way back and I am just so grateful for that time that we had together.”
Township resident Danielle Yager spoke about Solaro’s great kindness to her when she became pregnant with her children and how she was coping with her loss.
“The other day, when we had that big storm, I looked up and there was the most vibrant rainbow I have ever seen, and I knew that she was with us and that everything was going to be okay,” she said, pausing for a moment to regain her composure.