Community in mourning after death of New Jersey high school principal

WESTFIELD, New Jersey -- A New Jersey school district is in mourning after learning the principal of Westfield High School passed away over the weekend.

School officials announced Monday that principal Dr. Derrick Nelson has died unexpectedly.

The details of his death were not released, but a parent told Eyewitness News that Nelson died after going to the hospital to donate bone marrow.

"Derrick was a tremendous father to our beloved daughter Morgan and the best companion and life partner I could have ever asked for," fiance Sheronda Braker said in a statement. "He loved his family almost beyond belief. He was a man who carried himself with dignity, courage and compassion. His last kind and generous act on this earth in giving so someone else might live is a true testament to who he was and how he should always be remembered. We will always love him."

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.

A spokesperson for the school released the following statement:

"Dr. Nelson touched us all with his kindness, compassion, integrity, and endlessly positive attitude. We hold him and his family in our hearts as we grieve this loss together and I know you join me in granting his family the privacy they have requested."

Westfield Mayor Shelley Brindle said the town is offering any assistance to the school district that is necessary during this difficult time.

"This is a tremendous loss for our community, and I know that our children, and we as parents, will struggle with coming to terms with this over the coming days and weeks," Brindle said. "He was a man of immense character and kindness, and his legacy will live on in the generations of students whose lives he touched."

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."

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.

Grief counselors are available Tuesday for students at the school.
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