Demi Cuccia was a vibrant, happy teenager and Gateway High School student who ended up in a relationship with a violent, controlling partner.
Her life was cut short in 2007, a day after her 16th birthday, when she was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend, John Mullarkey.
While Demi's story is far more tragic than most, it is not unfamiliar to some teenagers of both sexes.
"One in three teens are abused in some way," said Magdeline Jensen, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh YWCA, which as part of its Week Without Violence sponsored the play "You Belong to Me" that was presented Tuesday at the Community College of Allegheny County's Boyce Park Campus by the Prime Stage Theatre Company.
Mrs. Jensen said that while the YWCA realizes that its efforts alone will not resolve the problem, the purpose of the play, along with other weeklong events, is to raise awareness, especially among teens.
Week Without Violence is held the third week in October as a signature initiative created by YWCA USA nearly 20 years ago to mobilize people in communities across the nation to take action against all forms of violence, wherever it occurs.
"This year we decided to target the younger generation," Mrs. Jensen said.
Written by Debbie Lamedman of Portland, Ore., the play tells the story of a young girl, Ali, portrayed by Morrissa Trunzo, who is in search of her first boyfriend. Through a friend, she meets David (Ryan Novakovich), who at first is attentive and tender but eventually turns controlling and violent.
Although Ali's friends suspect something is wrong, they fail to intervene for fear that their friend will alienate them further.
It's when Ali wakes up and attempts to break up with David that his violence becomes overwhelming and during a fit of anger, he kills her.
Local high school students attended the production, during which they exhibited an array of emotions, ranging from giggles to sighs of shock. However, it was at the play's fatal conclusion that silence reigned in the college auditorium.
Following the presentation, the students were given the opportunity to discuss the play with the cast, with domestic violence advocates and with Demi's mother, Jodi Cuccia. Since her daughter's death, Mrs. Cuccia has been on a mission to educate teenagers and parents in the hopes of preventing such a tragedy from happening again.
Prior to the play, Mrs. Cuccia presented the audience with a video of her daughter from childhood to the time of her death.
"It's ironic that I'm here today, as I was sitting in this very room when I got the text that John had stabbed Demi," she said.
Mrs. Cuccia said that John was a friend of her son when he started to date her daughter. She recalled that she suspected nothing because of the teen's familiarity with her family.
"Abusers can be very clever ... I missed signs," she said. "Her friends knew but never said anything to me. If I would have known, I would have done something."
During the question-and-answer session, domestic violence advocates, including the play's director Allison Weakland emphasized the importance of recognition and intervention when abuse is suspected. Ms. Weakland works for the Domestic Violence Services of Southwestern Pennsylvania in Washington, Pa.
According to Ms. Weakland, the Pittsburgh-based Prime Stage Theater has for the past couple of years presented programs dealing with teen abuse at local high schools to raise awareness. The theater became aware of Ms. Lamedman's play and joined forces with the YWCA to reach a wider audience.
Mullarkey was convicted of first degree murder and is serving a life sentence.
Linda Metz, freelance writer: email@example.com.