Shortly after talking to Brookfield High School and eighth-grade students about the death of his daughter at the hands of her ex-boyfriend, the warning signs that someone is being abused or might be an abuser, and the statistics showing the prevalence of dating violence, Dr. Gary Cuccia was approached by a handful of students who wanted to talk about their experiences.
Cuccia, of Greensburg, Pa., is not a counselor, but he embraces contact with those who are willing to talk about these issues and have similar stories to share.
Prior to Demi Brae Cuccia’s death on Aug. 15, 2007, Gary Cuccia didn’t think much about date violence, he said. He didn’t know that one in five teens is physically or sexually abused by a partner, or that one in three teens experiences some form of dating abuse.
“This is something I never thought was gonna affect my family,” Cuccia said Nov. 21. “You see it in the news and think this is never gonna affect me or my family.”
Demi was a day past her 16th birthday when she allowed her ex-boyfriend, John Mullarkey Jr., who was 18 and had repeatedly texted her over the previous two weeks, to come over to her house. She was alone.
Cuccia was at work and had just talked to his daughter on the phone. Sixteen minutes after they hung up, Demi had been stabbed repeatedly and Mullarkey – a good friend of Demi’s older brother – sent a text message to his mother saying he had stabbed himself.
The suicide attempt was unsuccessful, and Mullarkey was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison.
Looking back, Cuccia said there were red flags of trouble, such as Mullarkey asking Demi to give up cheerleading, a sign of Mullarkey’s controlling nature. Cuccia never recognized them, he said.
“I’m just trying to open people’s eyes in a way different from the way my family’s eyes were,” he said.
To the girls in the audience, he asked them to not shy away if they see a friend whose demeanor has suddenly changed, whose grades have fallen and who has become an emotional wreck.
“If you speak out and you say something, it can make all the difference in the world,” he said.
As the majority of domestic violence perpetrators are male, Cuccia asked the boys not to tolerate it if they see friends acting aggressively toward their girlfriends.
He also asked the boys to recognize problems within themselves. If they sense they need to control someone and are feeling that violence is becoming an option, they need to get help, he said.
“I need your help, guys,” he said. “I need you to watch each other’s backs. If you see something, say something.”
Cuccia also appealed to boys to consider how Mullarkey’s acting out on his compulsions affected his life: he will never have a girlfriend again; he will have limited contact with his family; and he will spend his life with just about all of the decisions in his life controlled by others.
promo“Sit back, take a deep breath, rethink it and try to make a different choice,” Cuccia said.
Try to be better than the bad things in your life, he said, noting that some of those things – such as relationship breakups – are a part of life and something that can be overcome.
“It’s your choice to make it better,” he said.
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The Demi Brae Cuccia Awareness Organization can be found on Facebook and at
Cuccia endorses the National Dating Abuse Helpline at 866-331-9474 and, and Break the Cycle, an organization that offers support for young people to build healthy relationships, which is at