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Madison Sparrow remembered as a 'bright light' during New Jersey vigil

Jeff Neiburg Isabel Hughes
Delaware News Journal

PENNSVILLE, N.J. – Andrae Ames said Madison Sparrow and her younger sister, Molly, were "good luck charms."

Whenever the girls would show up at Penns Grove High School's track and field meets to support their grandfather, coach Tom Mason, the team would perform well.

Thursday night, Ames was standing next to Mason, his middle school teacher, track coach and later his coaching colleague, to provide "love and support." The Salem County community gathered at Riverview Beach Park for a candlelight vigil to remember the life of Sparrow, the 17-year-old Newark Charter student who police said was killed last Friday by her ex-boyfriend, Noah Sharp.

More than 100 people gathered around a gazebo for a service led by Rev. Thomas Perry, from the church were Mason is a parishioner. There were multiple prayers and Bible verses read. A bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" in the middle of the service and finished the half-hour vigil with a song as he walked into the distance.

"My granddaughter was a bright light," Mason told the gathered crowd. "I thank you for all the prayers and all of the support. Of course, everyone is devastated, but they're all taking strength from your support."

Madison Sparrow, 17, has been missing since Friday, according to police. She was last seen near Farm Lane in Newark.

Mason taught at Penns Grove Middle School for 38 years and was a track coach for more than 30 years in the area, too. He also directs plays at the Oakwood Theatre in  Carney's Point. 

Many in attendance at the vigil Thursday night had never met Sparrow, but were there to show support for Mason, a community mainstay. They were former students and athletes, actors and friends.

"We're here as a community," Ames said. "We value his life.

"I had to come and show him that I love him dearly. It's one thing to say it, but it's another thing to actually show it. I think tonight was a great experience and a great outpouring of that."

Madison Sparrow is memorialized in photos in a display at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, N.J., during a vigil there in her memory Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020.

Another vigil is planned at Newark Charter on Friday night at 6 p.m., hours after Sparrow's viewing.

BACKGROUND:Ex-boyfriend charged with murder in death of missing Newark girl, planned killing with other person

In front of the gazebo Thursday night was a table with candles surrounding a collage of photos of Sparrow. Rev. Perry read "The Dash," a poem by Linda Ellis.

Afterward, Mason said the memorial "meant everything" to him.

"More than half didn’t know Madi," he said. "But they came for the family and I’m very proud of that."

He said the family has been through "exceptional grief" over the last few days.

Tom Mason, grandfather of Madison Sparrow, speaks to a gathering of mourners at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, N.J., to remember the life of Newark Charter Student Madison Sparrow. Sparrow was killed Friday; police say her ex-boyfriend confessed to the crime.

"We want answers quick, and we hope they come quick," he said.

All that is known so far is what has been revealed in the initial court documents following the arrest of the 19-year-old Sharp.

Sparrow's mother sounded the alarm around 8:30 p.m. Friday after her daughter didn't return home from a trip to the store with a 17-year-old female friend, those court documents say.

The friend, who is not named in the documents, picked Sparrow up from her house around 2:45 p.m. Sparrow told her mom she'd be home in a few hours, the documents detail.

She never returned.

Dozens of people gather at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, N.J. to remember the life of Madison Sparrow of Newark, Del., Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Sparrow, whose grandfather lives in Pennsville, was killed Friday; police say her ex-boyfriend confessed to the crime.

Police issued a Gold Alert for Sparrow Saturday night, saying she'd last been seen around 3:40 p.m. near Farm Lane, close to the University of Delaware, in Newark. On Monday, they announced she'd been found dead.

During interviews with family and friends, detectives were told Sparrow had gone "to an area in Newark where her ex-boyfriend, Noah, was located."

Court documents say that location was a "wooded area" behind Maclary Elementary School. When detectives got there, they found a metal baseball bat, which Sharp is accused of using to beat Sparrow to death with, as well as blood droplets.

Investigators also found some of the clothes Sparrow had been wearing on Friday when she left home.

Dozens of people gather at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, N.J., to remember the life of Madison Sparrow of Newark, Del. Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020.

What detectives found in the woods was consistent with what the 17-year-old friend had told them, the court documents say. The documents do not go into detail about how the friend knew about the blood and the bat, or whether she was there at the time of Sparrow's murder.

When detectives questioned Sharp, they said, he admitted to killing his ex-girlfriend, saying he'd hit her in the head with an aluminum baseball bat. He also said after Sparrow was dead, he took her body to another "wooded area" near Route 896 and Interstate 95.

That's where police found her.

Court documents do not give a motive for the crime, but said Sharp confessed that he and an unnamed person planned Sparrow's murder, "which they carried out in the afternoon/evening hours" on the day Sparrow went missing. Documents do not go into detail about the plan, or when it was concocted.

Those are some of the answers Mason and Sparrow's family are looking for.

Dozens of people gather at Riverview Beach Park in Pennsville, N.J., to remember the life of Madison Sparrow of Newark, Del. Thursday, Oct. 8, 2020. Sparrow's grandfather lives in Pennsville.

"To think such a bright light is extinguished at such a young age senselessly," Mason said. "This was not an illness. This was not even a car accident. It was an act of violence. It’s inconceivable."

Friday's vigil at Newark Charter will feature live music. A microphone will be set up for family members and friends to speak about Sparrow. The socially distanced gathering will be held on the school's athletic fields.

"Tomorrow Delaware takes over," Mason said. "And I’m sure they’ll do as impressive of a job of love and support for Madi and the family as Salem County did today."

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Send story tips or ideas to Isabel Hughes at ihughes@delawareonline.com or 302-324-2785. For all things breaking news, follow her on Twitter at @izzihughes_. Contact Jeff Neiburg at jneiburg@delawareonline.com. Follow him on Twitter @Jeff_Neiburg.