Mother of slain teen Maren Sanchez holding benefit
MILFORD >> The mother of slain Jonathan Law High School junior Maren Sanchez is holding a fundraiser for a nonprofit to honor Maren, and she’s chosen a New Orleans theme.
It was in “The Big Easy” that Donna Cimarelli found solace during three unbearably painful dates.
Maren, 16, was fatally stabbed at school by classmate Christopher Plaskon on April 25, 2014, and Aug. 25 marked the fourth month of her killing.
Maren’s birthday was the next day, Aug. 26. The day after, Aug. 27, was the first day of school on what would have been the start of Maren’s senior year.
“I decided I needed to go somewhere,” Cimarelli said.
Even the sound of a school bus was too much to bear.
She took the trip to New Orleans with a nephew. “It was made easier by the energy of New Orleans,” the music, the people, the festivity.
Now, to benefit the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, Cimarelli is bringing that same energy here, a kind that Maren, a musician, would have loved.
She calls it “A Magical Night at the French Quarter,” noting “magical” was one of Maren’s favorite words.
April will mark three years since the tragedy that rocked the community and changed Cimarelli’s life.
At first Cimarelli didn’t know how she could live without her only child, a popular teen who lived life large. Maren befriended everyone, including Plaskon, who would come to kill her in a stairwell on prom day.
But buoyed by Maren’s spirit, Cimarelli is building strength every day, she said Sunday. Last year she announced creation of the Maren Sanchez Home Foundation, a program to raise awareness in girls about psychological and emotional control and manipulation with the hope that Maren’s story can save lives.
Cimarelli said she misses the physical presence of Maren, but that her daughter is with her every minute. She even can hear saying, “I’ve got it, Mom,” when Cimarelli needs strength.
“Bodies leave, but the energy and essence don’t leave you,” Cimarelli said.
While some days are harder than others — there are small reminders everywhere — Cimarelli said she only had two choices: “Run away from it all or face it and make a change.”
Noting that girls are often taught to be “people pleasers,” Cimarelli said, “A girl needs to know that ‘no’ is a complete sentence.”
So far the foundation has funded self-defense training for four high school girls through Fighting Arts Academy in West Haven, and will soon fund another six, opening the class up to the public for a nominal fee.
The program, “Her - Self Defense,” was created for the foundation by mixed martial arts champion Nick Newell, owner of the school.
The foundation has also assembled a group of educators and experts, including Maren’s former kindergarten teacher, some staff at Law, and a threat-assessment specialist, to create workshops for young teens to recognize emotional and psychological manipulation and physical danger.
Part of that will focus on communicating with others when something doesn’t seem right and reporting to adults. Parents will also receive training. The fundraiser will be held 6-11 p.m. March 25 at Milford Yacht Club, 131 Trumbull Ave., and will have a New Orleans-style dinner, musicians, a bourbon tasting, dancing and auctions. Tickets, for $125, can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 203-306-8638. Cimarelli said her daughter might be alive today had she known what to look for, as Maren was pursued by her eventual killer.
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. Cimarelli said it’s easy to not take some things seriously with teenagers, but there are ways to tell what is concerning. It’s about training teens, Cimarelli said.
Leila Dutton, a University of New Haven professor with Cimarelli at the launch of the foundation, and an expert in stalking behaviors, told the audience that the best practice is to go with the directive: “If you see something, say something.”
Trust who you are and listen to your intuition when something tells you a behavior isn’t right.
Cimarelli heard after her daughter’s death that Maren had become so uncomfortable with Plaskon that Maren once hid behind a board in a classroom, telling a fellow student, “Shhhh. I just don’t want to see him.”
Many of Plaskon’s actions, Cimarelli would later learn, were typical red flags of control and manipulation that can lead to violence. Cimarelli said the hope is the foundation will become an international force. Corporate sponsors are sought for the event. When Cimarelli announced the foundation at UNH, she said, “The blows that came to Maren on that dreadful morning were meant to silence her and to stop her loving heart from beating, to steal her voice and her infectious joy for life But I am here to tell you that that was not accomplished.”
For more information, visit the foundation’s home page.