By Chris Lundy, Alyssa Riccardi and Bob Vosseller
BERKELEY – Family, friends and those who knew Keith Pinto, 19, came out to remember him last night.
Pinto was working at the White Sands beach on August 30, when a sudden storm tore through Ocean County. He was killed and seven others were injured.
Among those who spoke during the vigil was his brother Kevin who said “I want to thank everyone who came out to celebrate Keith’s life. Don’t mourn him. He wouldn’t want everyone crying over him. That just wasn’t the kind of person he was.”
Keith and Kevin Pinto served on the life guard squad for four years starting when they were 16 years old. Their brother Tyler was a lifeguard before them and currently serves on the Toms River Police Department.
The teenager was known for his kindness and his dedication to his loved ones. He graduated from Toms River High School North and was a sophomore at Ocean County College. He was studying criminal justice psychology and had plans to join the U.S. Marines.
An online fundraiser was started to cover funeral expenses for him.
“Words cannot describe how so many of us are feeling right now,” said Chase Vander Vliet, who organized the fundraiser.
Vander Vliet added, “we lost a special guy tonight, one who was so close and meant so much to so many people. It would be impossible to get it all into words how much our friend meant to us but we all know how amazing he was.”
“Keith has left behind an overwhelming amount of amazing memories that will live in our hearts forever. All donations will go directly to Keith’s family for the proper goodbye that he deserves. Our hearts are broken by what happened and all our love and support go out to the Pinto family and all others affected by this tragedy. We’re going to miss you so much brother,” Vander Vliet said.
His death impacted a lot of people who took to social media to share their feelings.
“As a family with our own lifeguards here at the Jersey Shore, the loss of Berkeley Township lifeguard Keith Pinto hits very close to home. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Pinto family during this terrible time,” the Maruca family said.
“Many daily beach goers get to know their lifeguards on a first name basis. Be sure to thank your guards when leaving the beach each day. Every summer we see each township’s beach patrol form a tight bond. We are praying for the entire Berkeley Township Beach Patrol during this difficult time,” they said. “Thank you to the men and women who guard our beaches and keep us safe. They are the unsung heroes of the Jersey Shore – the first responders of summer.”
Pinto served as lifeguard at White Sands which is in the South Seaside Park section of Berkeley Township between 21st and 23rd streets. The tragedy occurred around 4:30 p.m. on August 30, and four out of the eight victims of the lightning strike were lifeguards.
According to Berkeley Township Police Chief Kevin H. Santucci, first aid and advanced life support was rendered to the victims. The survivors were taken to Community Medical Center in Toms River for treatment after suffering headaches, dizziness and hearing issues.
Beaches were closed for swimming yesterday and will remain closed today and tomorrow but will be open to sunbathers. Lifeguards and staff have been off since the incident and crisis counselors were made available for beach staff employees.
Berkeley Mayor Amato and Township Recreation Director Mark Dykoff were both present at the vigil held on Tuesday night and they extended their condolences to the Pinto family and his friends.
Mayor Amato noted that Pinto’s loss was “tragic and heartbreaking for our town and the entire Jersey Shore.”
The mayor also noted that the teenager “was out there every day protecting the lives of others. Our lifeguard teams, like so many along the shore, develop special connections with our community throughout the summer, which makes this loss even greater.”
“On behalf of myself and our entire community, I offer our deepest and most heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of this young man,” the mayor said.
Governor Phil Murphy said shortly after the incident, “our hearts are with the family and friends of the young lifeguard killed by today’s horrific lightning strike on the beach in Berkeley Township, and we pray for a full recovery for those injured.”
“I’ve spoken to Mayor Carmen Amato and offered the full support and assistance of our administration during this difficult time,” the governor added.