Maren Sanchez Home Foundation sponsors self-defense class in West Haven

WEST HAVEN >> Thirty females ages 10 through adult learned Sunday how to temporarily blind and cut off the air supply of an attacker, and more, in a self-defense class sponsored by the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation.

The organization was founded in memory of Maren Sanchez, 16, a popular junior at Jonathan Law High School in Milford who was slain in a stairwell three years ago by a fellow student.

The “Her Self Defense,” session, one of many to come, was held at the Fighting Arts Academy on Hamilton Street by owner Nick Newell, a former world champion mixed-martial artist who specializes in self-defense.

Sanchez’s mother, Donna Cimarelli, who started the foundation, said self-defense is only one prong of the foundation’s mission to empower girls to defend themselves against physical violence, as well as emotional, psychological and verbal manipulation.

All those elements came into play in Maren’s situation, her mother has said.

“We want it to be one of the components of the foundation to keep girls safe,” Cimarelli said.

She said girls from two previous sessions felt empowered when they left with “tools to get away” from an attacker; there had been a 15-person waiting list for Sunday’s full class.

Alia Mostafa, 19, of Trumbull, a neighborhood friend of Sanchez who once also lived in Trumbull, was there to learn moves. She brought a girl, 11, who she used to baby-sit.

“It’s a good way to pass this (knowledge) to the younger kids because the world can be a scary place,” Mostafa said.


Newell, a Law graduate and captain of the wrestling team long ago, began by giving the girls some tips, especially in light of the popularity of the internet for meeting people.

On a first date, he said, wear something comfortable but sturdy such as jeans, and park in a well-lit area. For those in college, don’t drink and party too much and always have a friend close by.

The participants paired off and practiced on one another as Jewell showed them how to fend off attacks from all angles.

He showed them that, if pushed against a wall with hands around their neck, they should take their index and middle fingers and jam them into the center of their attacker’s neck where the windpipe is. Then run.

Each angle to fend off an attacker has distinctive directions for stance, arm extension and movement.

In one exercise, he taught them how to jam fingers into the attacker’s eyes.

Newell said people are always told to kick an attacker in the groin, but the eye maneuver is important because while the groin hit really hurts, an attacker will push through it. It’s more difficult if they can’t see, he said.

The girls and women had fun along the way, and at one point Newell reminded them it was serious business.

Lee Cheney, a board member of the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, said the self-defense skill could be used on stranger or on someone a girl knows, as was the case with Maren.

Cimarelli said they will start a series of talk workshops for girls, beginning Nov. 10, based on the bestseller, “The Gift of Fear.” The overriding message being to follow gut instincts.

The workshop details, to be announced, will be developed and led by licensed clinical social worker Lauren Goldstein of Monroe.

Goldstein said Sunday the workshops will aim to “empower” young women to identify, then defend themselves against emotional and psychological manipulation.

Cimarelli said the goal is to bring the girls “to follow their gut,” natural instincts that can be suppressed in a society that teaches girls to be nice, understanding, polite and lady-like.

There are ways to recognize red flags and take control of situations while still being nice, she said.


Maren was fatally stabbed at school by classmate Christopher Plaskon on April 25, 2014.

The Associated Press has reported a settlement has been reached in a civil case.

Cimarelli has said her daughter might be alive today if she had known what to look for, as there were red flags.

At first Cimarelli didn’t know how she could go on without her only child, but has said she’s been lifted by Maren’s vibrant spirit to carry on and help others.

Cimarelli has said she misses the physical presence of Maren, but that her daughter is still with her every minute and she even can hear her voice saying, “I’ve got it, Mom,” when strength is needed.

Cimarelli has said she had two choices when the unthinkable happened: “Run away from it all or face it and make a change.”

She has said girls need to know that “no” is a complete sentence.

Some of the workshops will include the lesson to communicate with others when something doesn’t seem right, Cimarelli has said. Parents will receive training as well to recognize the signs.

Plaskon, 17 at the time of the killing, is serving 25 years in prison as part of a deal in which he entered a “no contest” plea to the murder charge.

To learn more about the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, visit: