A 16-year-old boy from Fort Lee died when he fell off a cliff in Fort Lee’s section of the Palisades Interstate Park, near the George Washington Bridge late Friday, police said.
The East Bergen rappel team was called after the teen fell off the cliff around 9:45 p.m. Friday, said Fort Lee Fire Chief Keith Sabatino. Rescuers used a fire department tower ladder truck and helicopter team to reach the victim.
Palisades Interstate Parkway Police said emergency crews had difficulty reaching the teen because of the time of night, remote location, and cliff-side hazards.
The teen was walking with a 16-year-old girl from Edgewater when the incident occurred, according to PIP police. The girl, who called 911 when the fall took place, told police that she and her friend were near the edge of the cliff when he fell backward — going over the cliff.
Police said they did determine that the victim was beyond a safety railing which was put in place to prevent people from being near the unsafe area of the cliff’s edge.
The cause of the fall is not considered suspicious but is still under investigation, police said. The cause of death is under investigation by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Emergency crews remained at the scene, near the GWB’s north tower, early Saturday. Teams from the Fort Lee Fire Department, Port Authority Police and NYPD Emergency Service Units, Cliffside Park Fire Department, Palisades Interstate Parkway Police and Teaneck Fire Department's Box 54 Support Services Unit were at the scene.
Police did not release the teen's name, but school officials confirmed the victim was junior John Graniello.
Fort Lee Board of Education president Arthur Levine said the district had been informed of the student's death.
“Fort Lee police confirmed to us that it was one of our kids,” Levine told Patch. “[Interim Superintendent of Schools Steven Engravalle] is en route. A team is being assembled, and unfortunately, we have experience with this.”
He added, “We’re assembling our crisis team, no different than we did during the last tragedy.”
Engravalle posted a letter to parents, guardians and community memberson the school district’s website addressing the incident.
“Without question, all our thoughts and sympathies remain with his family and friends during this most heartbreaking time,” Engravalle said in the letter. “Most certainly, this shocking loss is certain to raise many emotions, concerns and questions for our entire school community, especially our students.”
According to Engravalle, members of the Crisis Response Team will be “available to meet with students individually and in groups” Monday.
Classmates took to Twitter and Facebook to express their grief over Graniello's death.
"I'm in absolute devastation right now RIP," wrote Twitter friend @xOAyshianxo. "@johngraniello you will be truly missed."
"rip ❤ you were such a sweet kid," added @kiajano. "I guess it's true, the good do die young. You're forever in my heart."
The incident marked the second time this school year that a Fort Lee High School student has died. A 10th-grader at the school in December, the last time the school district’s had to mobilize.
Information regarding funeral arrangements will be released by the school district as soon as it is available, according to Engravalle, who added, “If your child wishes to attend, we strongly encourage you to accompany him or her to the service.”