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.