Saving lives from death
- Debbie Gallipani doesn't want sympathy.
She wants action.
— Debbie Gallipani doesn't want sympathy.
She wants action.
"I want Julia's story to be known," said Gallipani. "You don't know it is that severe until it is too late."
"She was fine the week before," said Mercedes, now 19, who is Julia's sister.
It was the summer of 2011. Julia was just 12 years old.
The family had lived in Waymart for quite some time. Julia attended the Western Wayne School District.
But about six months earlier, the family moved briefly to the Forest City area where Julia attended school.
That summer, they moved back to Waymart. Julia was once again enrolled at Western Wayne but school had not yet started.
"She was cutting," said Debbie.
Cutting is injuring yourself on purpose by making scratches or cuts on your body with a sharp object — enough to break the skin and make it bleed.
Cutting can be a way people try to cope with the pain of strong emotions.
Debbie knew something was wrong with her daughter.
But she had no idea just how bad things had become.
"We had tried to address it," said Debbie of Julia's depression.
In fact, they had taken Julia to a children's hospital. There, doctors put her on Prozac, which Debbie said made Julia "overly hyper."
Nonetheless, they felt things were moving in the right direction.
"We believed she was doing well," said Debbie.
In fact, Julia was looking forward to going back to Western Wayne and being with her many friends.
Aug. 16, 2011, started out as a "normal day," according to Debbie.
Debbie and Mercedes were in the living room and decided to watch a movie.
Julia was in her bedroom. They yelled for her to come into the living room and join them watching the movie.
"There was no response," said Debbie.
Julia had a loft bed with a desk underneath. The bottom of the bed has metal bars to hold the mattress.
"We found shoe laces wrapped around the bed," said Debbie.
They were tied around Julia's neck.
They immediately called 911 and began CPR.
It was too late.
Debbie's 12-year-old daughter was dead.
"The coroner said it was odd she would hang herself," said Debbie.
Debbie said it was not until after the tragic death the family learned about Julia being bullied for a long time.
"It was not until afterward that people said she was bullied and apparently it was major," said Debbie.
Then a few months ago, Debbie received a call from someone she hadn't spoken to in years. The woman on the other end of the phone said her daughter was being bullied in school.
The floodgates opened for Debbie.
Debbie thinks the bullying might be by some of the same people who bullied Julia.
"I am not by any means pointing fingers at anyone," said Debbie.
However, that does not make the pain any less and she thinks Julia's story could help someone — one of her main goals.
Recently, Debbie met with the acting superintendent at Western Wayne.
"He asked for any input," said Debbie.
For Debbie, the biggest step is "being proactive. Do workshops. Keep (the teachers) up to par on the danger signs."
Debbie also understands the onslaught of social media, which has led to an entirely new kind of problem — cyberbullying.
In Julia's case, she said they "didn't find anything" when it comes to social media.
In fact, there were hardly any signs — or at least Debbie didn't see them.
One thing Debbie points out is the fact she had a close relationship with Julia.
"We were so close, you didn't see the line between parenting and friendship," said Debbie.
That, she thinks, could have been part of the problem.
"I bash my head against the wall," said Debbie when asking herself why Julia didn't say anything. "I really don't know."
Yet it happened and Debbie has been living with that fact every day of her life since the tragedy.
"Every minute of every day this has consumed me," said Debbie. "But I never sat and cried. It is sheer anger."
Ever since that day in August 2011, Debbie has not been right.
"I don't eat right. I don't sleep right. I don't act right," she said.
For some, the grieving process means the wounds heal.
Not for Debbie.
"Time has made me angry," she said. "That is what has brought me to say something. She's gone. I don't want it to be for nothing."
"I want something positive," said Debbie, reflecting on the death of her daughter and how that might help others.
That is why she is being proactive and speaking out.
"You have to make time for your kids," said Debbie. "We have to put children on the front burner again."
She said when something as tragic as Julia's death happens, it impacts "the entire community."
That, she says, is where the culture needs to change.
"Legislation needs changed in the United States of America," she said. "You can't get away with beating someone. You don't just sweep it under the rug."
Debbie thinks bullying has to be a focus of lawmakers and school officials.
"You have to make it more serious," she said, talking about the consequences of bullying.
But Debbie is the first to admit there is no easy path in dealing with this issue.
"I don't have all the answers," she said.
Debbie says parents, school officials, law enforcement and the community in general need to work together to address the issue.
"We need to stop passing the buck," said Debbie. "Maybe the school and the community can come together."
She says "parents need to step in" when it comes to the issue of bullying.
"We have to look at it as a whole," said Debbie.
That, she said, is why now is the time for her to come forward to tell the story of Julia and how such a tragedy might be prevented in the future.
She hopes the community will listen.
"I'm afraid they are not going to take me seriously," said Debbie.
"It's awareness," she continued. "I want people to be aware. If it happened to me, it can happen to anybody."
"I'm not shutting up," said Debbie, who admits she speaks her mind to anyone who will listen.
She plans to get out into the community and carry her message to everyone.
Debbie thinks one step which can be taken by school districts is for youth to talk with other youth.
"Peer on peer seems to be a good idea," said Debbie.
Since the tragic death of Julia, she has become much more aware of the warning signs.
"It's serious when you cut yourself," said Debbie.
She firmly believes that girls who are being bullied at school are "all cutting themselves."
The root causes
In reflecting on her own circumstances, Debbie says there are some signs she simply didn't recognize.
One is the fact Julia was more mature than most — as well as tolerant.
"She always said it's okay to be different," said Debbie.
Julia had friends of all stripes, including some who were gay.
That, says Debbie, does not set well with some people, who she thinks are closed minded.
Her daughter Mercedes agrees.
"Closed-minded people teach closed-mindedness," said Mercedes.
Mercedes herself, who was 17 at the time and still in school, said she didn't see any signs her sister was going to commit suicide.
"I had no clue," said Mercedes.
She said her sister did not leave a note or give them any indication of why she took her own life.
"There was not anything," said Mercedes.
Mercedes was devastated by the loss of her sister.
"We were a lot closer than sisters," said Mercedes, calling Julia her best friend.
When Julia died, Mercedes said her "world was falling apart. It was hard for me to do anything."
Even today, it is hard to cope, though she, too, has taken her mother's attitude that something positive needs to come from the tragedy.
"There is not a second that goes by that I don't think about her," said Mercedes.
Never give up
So what is next?
For Debbie, it's taking the tragedy of her pre-teen daughter's death and trying to help others.
"This is the result," says Debbie, referring to the fact her daughter is gone and that cannot be changed. "There is nothing we can do to bring her back."
However, she can tell the story and try to make a difference.
"I want to help make a difference in someone else's life," she said.
Some days, she passes by schools and sees children playing — just like children should be doing.
"What is really going on in our schools?" she asks herself.
One thing she knows is happening is bullying.
Debbie thinks one of the best possible solutions to the problem is making sure the parents are held accountable.
"These parents need to be brought into the schools," she said.
Debbie knows that some parents don't even bother to meet with school officials and counselors to try and make a difference.
She would go so far as to fine parents who don't go to the school and hear the truth about what is happening.
"Maybe then they would take it more seriously," she said.
Whatever the answers, Debbie says she will continue to spread the message and she hopes people will listen and then take action.
That would make the death of her daughter not in vain.