By Rebecca Granet, 1010 WINS
HILLSDALE, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Rosemarie D’Alessandro is driven by passion, patience and perseverance. But the inspiration she found through the tears and the pain of an unimaginable horror is what consumes her days.
“My main inspirational person is Joan,” Rosemarie said. “I would not have been doing what I’m doing to this day if it wasn’t for her inspiration, and it’s like she’s telling me to do what I’m doing.”
Her daughter’s heart and soul are remembered each day in the work that she does, by the pictures that line the walls of her home, in her daughter’s tiny ballet slippers preserved on display just outside the kitchen, and by the white butterflies placed throughout the house. Rosemarie even keeps a rock from the place where Joan’s sexually molested and murdered body was found at Harriman State Park in New York.
As Rosemarie separates the blinds from inside the large front window of her Hillsdale, N.J. home and peers beyond its penetrable barrier, she can see the house of horrors. On April 19, 1973, her 7-year-old daughter, Joan Angela D’Alessandro, was playing on her front lawn when she saw her neighbor drive up to his home. Joseph McGowan lived across the street, three houses away on the quiet, calm, suburban road. With just two boxes of Girl Scout cookies left to deliver, Joan brought the Thin Mints over to his house.
She never came home.
Rosemarie copes with the memories of that day by remembering her daughter’s “joyful, spiritual, brave and giving energy.” An energy she has tried to keep alive for the nearly 14,965 days her daughter has been gone.
“Just two weeks after she died, I said, ‘oh my goodness,’ she died on Holy Thursday and she was found on Easter, and look what happened,” Rosemarie said. “She was just a Joan that was put here to give this energy and to show me this energy and to show others her energy and I said I think that this energy is going to continue.”
She began to think about how she could perpetuate her daughter’s spirit.
“I got the message from Holy Thursday and Easter Sunday, and those days to me — with what I believed in — were a message of hope,” Rosemarie said. “So therefore I continuously, everyday would think of, ‘Is there a sign for the message of hope?’”
In 1993, Joseph McGowan, serving life in prison for the abduction, rape and murder of Joan, became eligible for parole for a second time.
“I was told if you didn’t fight to keep him in, there was a very strong possibility he would get out, so that was a very big turning point in my life and that was also the time that I realized that was the message,” Rosemarie said. “The message was that I was supposed to start a movement and the movement was going to get involved with the no parole effort which was right there in front of me and I was to find out to change laws. Laws that would not be retroactive for my family or for myself, but laws that would help society.”
Rosemarie spent countless hours working to pass laws that would raise awareness and protect the children of tomorrow. She was the driving force behind Joan’s Law. Passed in New Jersey on April 3, 1997, according to www.joansjoy.org, the law states that “anyone who murders a child under fourteen years of age in conjunction with a sexual offense will never be eligible for parole and will never get out of prison.” A federal version of the law was signed on Oct. 30, 1998. It was signed on the state level in New York on Sept. 15, 2004.
To date, no other state has passed the law.
“It would be good if a state that didn’t have it exactly would have it, but my personal hope would be that there would never be parole considered anymore for these kinds of crimes in this day and age with all that’s been done in the victim’s effort that my mom and others have been involved in,” Rosemarie’s youngest son, 31-year-old John D’Alessandro, said.
Rosemarie is now spending her time working on a new, special project. On Thursday at 5:30 p.m. there will be an unveiling of The Joan Angela D’Alessandro White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden. It is located in front of the Hillsdale train station on the corner of Broadway and Hillsdale Ave. The event takes place on the anniversary of the first Joan’s Law.
“I had this idea [originally] for the sculpture and garden because it was the 40th anniversary since Joan left this earth,” Rosemarie sad. “I wanted to do something to show what the message about her life and her death was, and it really is a very positive message, which would symbolize child safety forever, even 200 years from now.”
One side of the sculpture will have an engraved butterfly with the slogan “Remember Joan Today So Tomorrow’s Children Will Be Safe.” The other side of the sculpture will have Joan’s picture, her story, and how the white butterfly has become the enduring symbol for the D’Alessandro family and the protection of children.
“The whole idea was always about to have more awareness, that in time the story doesn’t fade, that people then remember about child safety,” John said.
For Rosemarie, the white butterfly became significant to Joan’s story during a visit to Harriman State Park. On a cold April day, Rosemarie saw the butterfly over a hill near the area where Joan’s body was found.
“She saw a white butterfly and it really struck her as a sign that Joan was happy and that she was feeling better,” John said. “She began telling the story and over time it evolved into a symbol of Joan’s energy and a symbol of Joan’s spirit.”
Just as Rosemarie gleans positivity from those moments and takes joy in her daughter’s memory and spirit, she continues to take joy in the unveiling of the sculpture and garden.
“I don’t think of it as sad at all,” she said. “This is awesome. They’re going to have the sculpture there. We’re going to have this garden.”
The garden will be a place to remember a little girl’s bright smile. A place to remember her sparkling eyes and caring spirit. A place to perpetuate the message about child safety and protection.
Rosemarie’s work, she says, is all about Joan’s spirit and the joy that death could not extinguish. Forty-one years later, Rosemarie is filled with passion, patience and perseverance. With love in her heart, she is as driven as ever.
“I don’t think of age,” she said. “I think of life, like Abraham Lincoln said, you know, it’s the life you put into your years.”
For more information on Joan and The Joan Angela D’Alessandro White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden, visit www.joansjoy.org.
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