Friday, December 19, 2008

Love and death on Long Island

By all accounts, Natalie Ciappa was bright, talented, and gregarious. At seven years old, Natalie was pushing a pink stroller through her Massapequa, New York, neighborhood and easily befriended another young girl, Katie. She was quick to share her dolls and her companionship with Katie, beginning a friendship that would continue until one sickening morning in June 2007.
That’s when Natalie laid unconscious on a couch in the home of 19-year-old Seewoo Sung. Her father worked frantically to revive his daughter while Mr. Sung feverishly tried to purge his home of any evidence of the previous night’s party . The efforts of both men proved futile: Mr. Sung would be arrested for tampering with physical evidence, a felony, and Mr. Ciappa could not breathe life into his daughter.
Natalie, the girl with the voice of an angel, the mind of scholar, and a heart of gold, was dead at 18 years old from a heroin overdose. Sadness turned to outrage in her native Nassau County. How could this happen to such a good girl, the one who was to begin studying criminal psychology at the State University of New York in the fall? The one who once snuck through a window to deliver birthday cake to a friend trapped in bed with mono? Once again, the bad guys had won.
In the weeks and months that followed, it seemed that a dam had ruptured. Grieving, tormented parents came forward to tell heartbreaking stories of their own children dying at the end of a needle in the neighborhoods of Long Island. The story had become all too familiar.
On Monday, December 16, Nassau County passed Natalie’s Law and on Tuesday, neighboring Suffolk County did the same. Under the legislation, a web site will be established showing the locations of all heroin arrests, similar to those mapping the whereabouts of registered sex offenders. Additionally, community members can reciprocate with law enforcement, providing information about “heroin hotspots” readily available online.
A start, yes, but little consolation for Natalie’s family and friends . Her mother, Doreen Ciappa, said this week, “Natalie was everybody’s dream child. She was in the honor society, a cheerleader and sang the national anthem at school events. We knew that she went to parties, and I was concerned that she was experimenting with pills or cocaine, but I never once considered heroin. If I had known, I believe that things would have been different.”
On the web site dedicated to Natalie’s memory, her lifelong friend Katie wrote,”I have no pictures to share or notes that you have written me in the past because I put them in the casket with you, I had wanted you to always have the memories we have shared because I know I will… If only you saw what a beautiful, intelligent, fun loving girl you were, maybe you would still be alive today.”
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