Victim's father spreads word about dating violence
The signs were all there: He didn't want her cheerleading anymore. He didn't want her hanging out with her friends. He texted her incessantly, and there was that unforgiving breakup.
Yet no one expected what would happen next.
The day after her 16th birthday, Gateway High School cheerleader Demi Brae Cuccia was fatally stabbed by the boyfriend she dumped just a few weeks prior. John Mullarkey Jr. was convicted of first degree murder in 2009.
“He had made up his mind that if he couldn't have Demi, no one else could,” her father, Gary Cuccia, 50, of Greensburg, told sophomores and juniors at a recent Baldwin High School Assembly.
Yet, Cuccia refuses to let Demi become a teen dating violence victim. Instead, she is an advocate, helping to alert students to the signs of dating violence early.
“I want to share my daughter's message with as many people as possible,” Cuccia said.
Cuccia founded the Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization, a nonprofit group, to raise awareness about teen dating violence. Since Demi's death, he has visited as many as 50 schools and talked to as many as 5,000 students about the issue. Telling the story about Demi's heart-wrenching final minutes always is hard for him, he said. But it's something he has to do.
“I don't want anybody else to go through this,” Cuccia said.
Cuccia said it wasn't obvious to him that Demi was in a violent relationship. Mullarkey always treated him with respect and when Demi told her father that the young man wanted her to quit cheerleading, Cuccia said, he just shrugged it off.
Now, Cuccia said, he realizes that was a clear sign of what was to come.
“When a boyfriend or girlfriend is trying to choose your activities, that's a worrying sign,” he said.
Cuccia was the last one to talk to his daughter on Aug. 15, 2007, before her ex-boyfriend, Mullarkey, came to visit.
“I keep playing that conversation over and over and over again in my mind,” he said.
Cuccia was at work and Demi was home alone. She had just passed her driver's permit test that day. She was happy.
A short time later, Cuccia said, he got a call from Demi's step-mother, with the words, “Something really bad has happened to Demi.”
Cuccia said he thought it was a car crash and never could have imagined his daughter was stabbed by her ex-boyfriend 16 times.
“Things get out of control really fast and bad things happen,” Cuccia said. “If it doesn't feel right, it's not right.” That message was well received by Baldwin High School students, who discussed their own relationships amongst themselves.
“It was definitely eye-opening,” said sophomore Eleni Andrulonis, 15.
“You see the stories on the news and you're connecting things and you think, do I know someone like this,” added sophomore Chris Luffy, 15.
Sophomore Taylor Nagel, 16, said she reflected on recent relationships and hearing Cuccia's story.
“I didn't realize how common of a problem it was,” Nagel said.
Stephanie Hacke is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-388-5818 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.