Students, community honor New Jersey high school principal who died after donating bone marrow

Thursday, April 11, 2019
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Jim Dolan reports on the vigil held for a New Jersey principal who died last weekend.

WESTFIELD, N.J. -- A grief-stricken community in New Jersey came together to honor a high school principal who died while trying to save another person's life.

Dr. Derrick Nelson, the principal of Westfield High School, passed away over the weekend, reportedly while donating bone marrow.

Within 24 hours, more than 10,000 people signed a petition to rename the school in his honor.

A vigil was held for Nelson outside the high school on Wednesday night.

Parents and students came to remember the man who was Westfield High principal for just about a year, but left a lasting impact.

"He was selfless with his students. He was selfless with his country. He was selfless with his family and friends," one student said.

Nelson, 44, served as an officer in the US Army Reserve for more than 20 years and earned his doctorate in education administration from Seton Hall University.

He became principal of Westfield High School in 2017 and was previously the vice principal of Westfield Junior High School (Roosevelt Intermediate School) since 2010.

According to the school newspaper last month, Nelson agreed to donate bone marrow to a 14-year-old boy in France. The principal didn't know the boy, but they were a perfect match. It is not yet clear whether that operation had anything to do with Nelson's sudden death.

"He didn't just talk. He lived everything he said. He made our school, our community and our family so much better. Dr. Nelson has truly left a hand-print on all of our hearts," one student said at the vigil.

Nelson was described as passionate, big-hearted and an avid supporter of the students.

"He always tried to inspire students in the classroom and outside to be good people," senior class president Jackson O'Brien said. "And I think he served as a great role model."