As I look back at pictures of my youngest sister, Viviana, I smile and laugh as I recall the laughter we always shared, our private jokes and her infectious laugh. My smile soon turns to sadness and tears begin streaming down my face.
The reason for my speaking out: My lively 21 year old sister, my mini me, Viviana Tulli, was tragically murdered by a man who "absconded" from a NJ halfway home on August 30, 2010.
The day started off as Mondays usually do -- this Monday was different though... It was my mother's 60th birthday, a new decade for her, her own special day.
Imagine getting a call while at work from your parents asking if you had spoken to your sister and that your town's police officers were requesting all family members to meet at headquarters. Once I heard that, I knew this day was BAD. I knew at that moment my sister was dead.
Once I learned the awful truth and gave info as to who I thought did it (David Goodell), I ran out of the police station and wound up collapsing on the sidewalk.
I kept repeating "she's dead" to myself. This could not be possible. I just saw her the day before. We had plans for the week. No. I'm in a nightmare. This really wasn't happening... As I saw my parents and my brother walk out, eyes red, puffy from crying, noses sniffling, I couldn't lie to myself. This did happen.
How could this be? David was in a halfway house. I thought there was security. Wasn't a guard with him at the hospital?
As the days went on, I read in the newspaper there would be an investigation on the events that had happened regarding David's escape. I figured, "Ok then, we will get some answers". Umm no. That did not seem to be the case.
We didn't even get the common courtesy of a phone call or letter -- not even a fucking apology or a condolence on her death from the state.
I started getting more pissed.
The day before Vivi's wake, my mother and I had to deliver her burial clothing. My mother had to pick out a dress. It turned out to be a dress Vivi had eyed up a year before for my brother's wedding. It was white with silvery sparkles dress with tulle underneath. Vivi had joked she was going to get it to upstage my sister-in-law. Vivi wound up getting her dress -- along with a tiara. Lil' Miss Tulli was going out like the lil' princess my parents treated her as.
Once I handed off the clothing, I did something that has left a permanent memory in my head. One that repeats itself. I can't rid myself of it. I snuck downstairs, unseen by the staff, and found the embalming room.
There she lay, covered in a white blanket, her face and shoulders exposed, the autopsy marks covered. I saw the stitches in her head from where her scalp was peeled back and sewn back together. Her face swollen, bruised, gray, and lifeless. Her skin cold to the touch. My baby sister, my best friend, my partner in crime... dead.
I got up on that table next to her and cried. My body shook with sobs. I couldn't believe this. This could not be! I eventually composed myself and got back up. As I looked at her lifeless body, I promised her I would hold someone accountable for this murder -- not only David (he was already in police custody) but for those who allowed his early parole release, for those who did not take away his cell phone; basically anyone who didn't do what they were supposed to do. I was going to make them squirm.
I looked her over again, started inspecting, saw the ligature marks around her neck, the bruised line that brought about her tragic end. I saw the bruises on her nose and mouth from the beating I'm sure he gave her as she fought him off, and the bruising from him using his weight on her face to take the last bit of life she had left.
Tears rolling down my eyes, I bent down and kissed her forehead, smelled her hair and ran my hands down her arms and held her hand. "I love you Vivi. You know I do."
At that moment, so many memories started flashing before me -- the day my parents brought her home from the hospital, her birthdays (July 5), her high school graduation, her holding each of my son's after they were born.
She was there for so much in my life. She was me, in a younger, wilder package. She knew what I was going to say before I said it. We finished each other's sentences. We had our inside jokes, our own commentary. She and I joked that we should have our own show -- we could make $$ off our commentary. We said we were funnier than half of the people on reality shows, always clowning around, trying to make the other laugh.
I don't have anyone else to be this way with. Sure, I have my friends, my brother, and my husband. No one can understand me like she did. She had this laugh... it sounded like a duck having a seizure. It was hilarious! Once she got going, you couldn't help but giggle along and THEN she would get the snorts. I would cry from laughing so hard at her laughing.
Vivi, as the family called her, was special to each of us. We each had something special with her. I, though, as her older sister, had her the most. We would go shopping together, go out to eat, she babysat the kids. I have such a deep, strong love for my sister, I was also like a surrogate mother to her.
I tried so hard to get her to stop talking to that loser David. I was FINALLY getting into her head. She was realizing he was a nobody.
David... ha. That guy hated me. I had no tolerance for his bullshit. I would cut him down quick. I was quick to question his "stories." He realized I wasn't buying the crap he was trying sell and made it known to my sister he hated me. Oh well. Too bad for you David.
He tried to get her to stop talking to me, and said I was a bad influence on her. HAHA! He realized I was the little birdie in her ear, making more and more rational sense. Sadly, I didn't get to her in time because he ended her life.
Vivi had told me he threatened her by saying if she didn't so as he wanted, he would have me and my mother killed. He used that gang threat. David was a member of the Bloods; he boasted he was a high ranking official within that gang. Ugh, what Vivi saw in him or why she continued to speak to him I can never understand.
I did ask her and she would say she felt bad for him. Poor David -- his mommy didn't want him and his daddy died. Aww... poor guy (rolls eyes.) So Lil' Miss Tulli had to be the shoulder for him to cry on.
The problem, her weakness I guess, was having a big heart. David definitely played on that.
Here it is, almost four years after her death and I have become closer to keeping my promise to her.
Several months after my sister's murder, I tried getting some answers since I never received any. I emailed Governor Chris Christie's office and received a generic letter -- blah blah blah, we'll look into this and a copy of your letter will be placed in Mr. Goodell's file. Months pass and nothing happened. I get a Facebok message from Mr. Dolnick , a writer for the New York Times and we began speaking.
The New York Times released an excellent three-part series on the perils of the halfway house system which opened up a can of worms within NJ. The NJ Assembly held a hearing shortly thereafter to discuss the mismanagement of these facilities.
Several months later, our story came out. Local media picked it up and wrote about it. I got interviewed. The halfway house story was showcased on MSNBC Politics Nation with Al Sharpton. This past March 2014, my sister's murderer was highlighted in an episode of MSNBC Lock Up, which gave a glimpse of the man who took my sister's life and we had to hear and watch as he described in graphic detail the way he ended my beloved sister's life.
I was told by someone in media who had been helping me that I was being spoken of as a "glory hound" and a "grandstander". I was told that had I been humble and maybe approach Christie's camp , hat in hand, someone in his camp would have facilitated a meeting with me. What? I was incensed at this commentary. I have done nothing wrong. My sister was killed and I'm supposed to kiss butt? Look, I'm respectful -- to a point. I'm not going to bend who I am because someone didn't like a comment I made. We are all adults. If my words sting, how do you feel when life doesn't go your way?
If proper procedure had been followed, or, even more simply, had David Goodell NOT been paroled early, my sister would be alive. I'm not saying it was the fault of the halfway house, but I do wonder how a repeat violent offender was paroled early and sent to a halfway home to be "rehabilitated." Someone definitely didn't perform their job correctly that day.
I'm not here for any political gain. The only thing I want is some reform, some review and accountability for what happened to my sister.
Am I asking for much?