//How a Tragic Shooting Changed a Campus and a Brotherhood

How a Tragic Shooting Changed a Campus and a Brotherhood

On May 2, 2016 the NJIT community awoke to frightening news—a student had been shot and killed. Joseph Micalizzi was up late studying in his room when two criminals broke into the Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) house in an attempted robbery. During the robbery, Micalizzi was tragically shot and killed. 

Micalizzi was an aspiring mechanical engineer who transferred to NJIT from Brookdale Community College. In an interview with The Vector, TKE brother Kareem Awad, who was in the house during the shooting, stated that Joe “didn’t go to school initially—he worked in the restaurant business,” before attending Brookdale. 

At NJIT, Micalizzi had a 3.2 GPA and was on the Dean’s List the semester prior to his death.

Awad described Micalizzi as, “a caring person” and was able to recall many examples where he would go out of his way to help struggling TKE brothers with issues both in and outside of school. 

Within a week of Micalizzi’s death, both suspects were captured and charged. Taquan Harris and Nafee Cotman, who were 22 and 18 at the time, were arrested and charged with felony, murder, robbery, burglary and weapons offences. 

Over two years later, on Oct. 10, 2018, Harris and Cotman pled guilty to their crimes. Harris pled guilty to aggravated manslaughter, while Cotman pled guilty to armed robbery. They were one day from going to trial. 

Awad praised the prosecutor for “[finding] a way to serve justice without having to take it to trial.” 

On Feb. 7 of this year, Harris and Cotman were sentenced to 26 and 13 years respectively, with each being required to serve at minimum 85% of their sentence. Awad attended the sentencing and described Harris’s demeanor in court as “very disrespectful and non-empathetic toward the family, considering what he had done.”

Regarding their sentences, Awad stated that, “Unfortunately no sentence can bring Joe back. Even if it was 100 years each, it wouldn’t have made a difference. Nothing brings him back.” 

Despite this, the sentencing was a moment of closure for many at TKE’s NJIT chapter. Awad described it as, “not even a relief, but a big weight off of my chest, especially concerning the parents of Joe who … at the end of the day, given the circumstances we had to go through and all the despair we had to suffer through, you can only imagine what the parents had to go through, and what his younger and older sisters had to go through.” 

Sam Abraham, the current President of TKE’s NJIT Chapter, was part of the first class of TKE brothers that did not have the opportunity to meet and get to know Micalizzi personally. Abraham recently spoke with The Vectorand described the sentencing  as being “fair”, and remarked that “It’s good because I have seen a bunch of the older brothers at ease ever since the sentencing.”  

Abraham said he spoke to many of the older brothers who felt, “[as if] a weight was lifted off their shoulders,” after Harris and Cotman were sentenced. 

Micalizzi’s death has changed TKE in many ways. Physically, the building is significantly more secure, and brothers continue to further emphasize the safety of individuals in the building. Additionally, Abraham points out that TKE ensures new members learn as much as possible about Micalizzi. 

Abraham said, “When a brother dies, you don’t want their memory to fade away at all.” From their interviews, it is clear that Micalizzi will never be forgotten. 

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Adrian Wong

Senior Staff Writer

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