Two reporters from Staten Islander News Organization met with Maureen Fitzpatrick on April 21, 2020, to discuss the Danny’s Angel Network Nurturing Youth (D.A.N.N.Y.) Foundation, a light to the nation’s many bullied kids, formed in the aftermath of the tragedy of her young son Danny taking his own life in late summer of 2016 just shy of his fourteenth birthday, after incessant bullying at school had pushed him well beyond his limits.
The DANNY, Inc. Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit; Danny’s Mom feels this is the way that Danny’s kindness will reach the world and help other kids in his situation.
Danny and his family had done the right thing; instead of lashing out, Danny asked teachers and administrators for help. His parents also requested help in ameliorating the situation.
Instead of receiving the help that was needed, blame was cast in the direction of the Fitzpatrick family by Danny’s school, the Holy Angels Catholic Academy in Bay Ridge, according to Maureen.
Danny was an uncommonly kindhearted and compassionate individual; his mom’s stories about him made this quite clear.
He wasn’t a confrontational person, and while a linebacker at 13 in a pee-wee football league likely capable of giving his tormentors a thorough thumping, he chose not to react violently to his abusers.
Danny took to heart the message of Jesus Christ, and believed in loving others and refraining from judging.
Danny’s solution to the issue of being chosen as a target? Deal with it maturely. Pray to saint Michael for help. Turn to adults in authority for aid. Parents. Teachers.
He knew he couldn’t handle the bullying on his own.
And so perhaps it’s fitting that Danny’s legacy, the D.A.N.N.Y. Foundation works tirelessly toward helping prevent bullying, and making certain no other kids have to endure what Danny had to go through: first the bullying, then the lack of accountability, and finally, the raking of his family over the proverbial coals.
At one point, Danny’s parents were even investigated by child protective services and tested for drug abuse. The result? The Fitzpatrick’s came out clean, on all counts.
The interview was supposed to take place in Clove Lakes Park, but as the skies turned dark gray and threatening, Mrs. Fitzpatrick invited us to conduct the interview on her front porch, instead.
This turned out to be sound advice, as soon after the interview began, the sky opened up, soaking the spring flowers and freshly budded trees, lightning and thunder in dramatic full force, winds galing.
Below the boldface type and the image is a complete transcript of the interview. By the end, the sky was clearing, the clouds swiftly blowing on by, revealing a blue sky, and the birds were singing. What had been a dark day had turned brighter.
If you would like to help the D.A.N.N.Y. Foundation, there’s a number of ways you can pitch in. If you want to donate funds, please follow this link: DONATE TO THE DANNY FOUNDATION NOW
Here’s more you can do: (From the D.A.N.N.Y., Inc. Foundation web site)
Danny believed in the the power of a pinky promise. If you want to join the movement with D.A.N.N.Y.INC submit the following in an email to [email protected] To become an influencer of kindness on our page submit a photo of yourself making a pinky promise.
Become an Influencer in the movement to make Kindness a Lifestyle. Together we can make a difference.
- + Agreeing to be a voice to stand up and speak out for others who are being bullied or discriminated against.
- + Being respectful to all human beings without judgement. Being a source of positive support to those who have to face accountability for their actions; never using shame or humiliation to bully another human being.
- + Volunteering to help with D.A.N.N.Y.INC events with by one of the following:
- – Donating time, sharing events on your social media pages, seeking vendor donations
- – Sharing your personal acts of kindness on your social media pages using the hashtags #Kindnessisalifestyle #DannysLaw
- – Sharing any bully stories you might have encountered and how it made you feel, and describing the impact it had on your life.
Staten Islander News Org Interviewer #1: What are the goals of the D.A.N.N.Y. Foundation?
Maureen Fiztpatrick: Goals. Well, to do what it says. To help, you know, to dissipate the behavior of bullying. To help people understand that it really affects people’s lives, it’s not just a temporary thing. To accept accountability for their actions and to change the perception about accountability.
That’s a big one. That’s one of the biggest goals I have because people associate shame and accountability together. And, we’d like to change the perception on that, with people seeing it in a different way as such like, I tell the kids when I go to schools, if you see someone who’s bullying another student, or anybody else, and they get caught, instead of shaming them, and making them feel bad, encourage them to figure out why they behave that way because people aren’t born that way.
It’s not normal for a person to get up, get dressed, go to school or go work and intentionally go into a room and start making somebody else’s life miserable. It’s not normal. So, if you are encouraging to the person who gets caught, because it’s embarrassing, you know, you don’t have to be their friend, I tell them you don’t have to be their friends, you don’t have to hang out. But what you cannot do is turn around and make them feel bad like the way they made the person [being bullied] feel bad.
You know, encourage them to figure out what it is inside of them that’s hurting them that makes them react that way, that makes them think it’s OK to lash out in anger and hurt somebody else. Why? You know, to get to the root of the why. That’s what I encourage them to do. That’s one of the biggest goals.
And, just for people to start understanding that we’re all here to help one another, we’re all here to be kind and compassionate, to love one another. Just see if we can do a turnaround on that. That’s one of the biggest goals. And how it grows and expands, I would love to see me be able to have a place, find a place one day, where we can have support groups for people who have been bullied because it’s not just the victims that need to be healed, it’s also the bullies.
Because bullies are hurt people. And, we don’t just focus on the victims, we focus on both because you’re talking about two people that are hurt. It’s not just the victims.
The victims, of course, we all have empathy for, we all want to help them. But like I said, it’s not normal for somebody to wake up in the morning and lash out at another human being and hurt them physically, emotionally, mentally. It’s just not normal behavior. So, to try to take away the shaming factor because people you shame a lot in society, whether it’s about perceived flaws in another person or in any other sense or way. Positive behavior can be taught just as easily as negative behavior is, and bullying is absolutely learned behavior.
It’s learned. So, it’s time to unlearn it. That’s the goal: To take a positive approach and educate people. That’s my goal. Have an emotional literacy program for D.A.N.N.Y.’s Foundation.
SI1: What events has the foundation held so far?
MF: We’ve had a lot of awareness events, like fundraiser awareness events, where I just pretty much talk about Danny’s story and pretty much talk about what I did just now. I share his story and try to help parents. You know, we’re very busy when we work. We all have to work, everybody has to pay bills.
So, we tend to focus on life like that, so try to have a little bit more awareness when you come home on how your children are behaving. Ask them how their day was. I encourage them to sit down at the dinner table again and talk to one another to get them to open up because a lot of people who are bullied…Danny kept a lot of things hidden from us.
I know I don’t know all the stories still to this day of how many times he was actually attacked and verbally abused, and physically abused, mentally abused what it did to him. To help people understand that it really gets down deep, that it’s the pain. It’s very painful.
I also try to educate parents to put everything in writing, the legal part of it. Unfortunately, that’s what’s it’s come down to. Everything must be in writing. You can’t just go have a meeting with the teachers. You can’t. You have to put everything in writing, you have to have a paper trail. That’s what it’s come down to.
I talk about all those kinds of [things], anything that was effective in our life, I share with the public. Anything that can be helpful for another family. I encourage parents to take the time to talk with the children. A lot of time I’ll hear, “why do in have to write a letter?” and that annoys me. “Why do I have to write a letter?” It’s your child!
Are you going to sit and take twenty minutes to do your hair and makeup? Take twenty minutes to write a letter. That’s my thing. If you’re going to take a half hour to cook a dinner, take another half hour to write a letter. It’s truly important. There’re no ifs, and, or buts. There’s no way around that. There’s no alternative. There’s too many children dying.
And, how it affects people. I have met adults older than me that are still affected by it. It doesn’t get addressed. It’s a serious issue and to believe and understand that there is a correlation with bullying and suicide. Society just doesn’t want to accept that. It is real.
SI1: Even with…cyberbullying, it’s the new bullying. It has the same statistics.
Maureen: Well, Danny wasn’t really cyber-bullied, although I found out after his death that he did have a snap chat and from what I heard from kids that they did do things to him on that too.
SI1: So, there’s no escape.
Staten Islander News Org Interviewer #2: But it was his teachers and the staff too. It wasn’t just the students.
SI1: What events are planned for 2020?
MF: 2020…I only have the walk set up now because of… I was going to try to do something in between but the pandemic put a halt on that so definitely the walk, that’s in October, October 10th.
The event that I have planned so far this year is the anti-bully walk, the Infinite Love Anti-bully Walk on October 10th at Clove Lakes Park. I believe the time will be, I’m not sure of the time, it think its 10-4, but the actual walk is only for two hours. I haven’t set up those details yet, but I do have the permit and we are on for October 10th. I’ll advertise that when I have the details closer to the time.
That’s the only one I have now because the pandemic has put a halt on everything else. Hopefully I’ll be able to have a fundraiser of some sort. I usually like to combine the fundraisers as awareness events and this one and the same and offer people, I have legal advice that I offer people a legal packet that I hand out to parents that was written out by the law firm that is my son’s law firm with tips for people that they absolutely should follow now with taking their children to the pediatrician, documenting everything with the pediatrician, whether they have been physically attacked or not have their child tell their pediatrician because all medical records are considered legal documents.
It’s a paper trail. Any interaction with the school, a teacher, I don’t care who it is, in the education system, I don’t care who it is, must be in writing. Must be in writing. If you are going to mail a letter out, do return receipt it’s important that you have a record. Unfortunately, that’s what it’s come down to. You can’t just have meetings, because the schools will deny that you had meetings with them.
Whether people want to believe that or not. Pay attention to your children, look at their body language. Danny was a very happy, happy boy. He went from a very happy boy, always joking around, vibrant, to a very round shouldered, quiet kid, that was like this all the time, and um, I just like the life slowly come out of him, it just, it left him. His joy was gone, it was depleted.
SI1: What are the stated goals of NY State bill number 6438?
MF: Ooh, to remove an exemption in that bill. There’s an exemption in the NY state anti-bully law, it’s written in the law if you look it up, that it exempts all non-public schools from the law, from the anti-bully law. So, if you go to a Catholic school, or any kind of religious school, any nonpublic school, even a private school, basically the law says that those children are not protected under the NY State anti-bully law, and that the school. The staff do not have to abide by that law, legally.
SI1: What lawmakers have helped in that regard?
SI2: With the NY state law. Well, assemblyman Dan Donovan, was the one who submitted the bill. I really can’t say much about support with that, I’ve talked with many politicians with that. The ones who did had already signed on it. And I’m not sure where that is right now because I’m focused right now mostly on the Federal law.
SI1: OK, and that was the next question. What is Senate Bill HR 4108?
SI2: That’s not Senate that’s for Congress. That is “Danny’s Law.” That is on a Federal level. That is to create a round table. It’s two parts to the law. We’re going to create a round table, and we’re going to basically build a case for the government with a bunch of experts, and hopefully I’m supposed to be on the round table.
A parent who has lost a child to bullying, if we can find somebody who was a bully, a bully’s victim, and then the rest would be consisting of psychologists, doctors, all experts in the field, basically to present a case to the government why we need an anti-bully law on the federal level, and the goal for that in my mind is basically to create an emotional literacy curriculum, that is mandated across the country for every single school, which I did find something.
SI1: What was Danny like? What made him unique?
SI2: His kindness. Danny went to Catholic school, and he believed in the teachings of Jesus, how Jesus loved all the little children. So what did Jesus talk about, he talked about being kind, being compassionate…have understanding without judgment.
You know, the way we are all supposed to be. It has nothing really to do with a religious factor. It’s just [how] you are as a human being, but he believed in that. He was very very kind, he had a good sense of humor. He’s just a really, a good person, a good kid, and he just wanted a friend. His sense of humor I think it what I remember the most.
And his gentleness, and the little kids, like he would go to early morning school, I would have to drop him off at school early in the morning, and it was for kids of all ages, you know for people who went to work, and the little kids would gravitate to him, because he would be kind to them and he would have patience with them, and I noticed that about him, when I picked him up from school I remember there was this one little kid in particular who ran all the way up to him, ran all the way down the block, just to give him a hug, just because Danny was patient with him, and he was an older kid, and it was just unusual for a kid his age to have that much patience with the little ones, and I noticed that about him.
I told him…I said to him, you know you might be a good doctor someday, like a pediatrician, or a teacher or something, he was just very patient, the kids always gravitated towards him because he was kind, he was unusually kind, for his age, and he was respectful. You know, and like I said, he had a definitely a sense of humor at home, he used to joke around a lot, but that’s he was just a good kid.
SI1: And you said he wanted a friend…
MF: He just wanted, yeah, he just wanted to be friends with people, he didn’t understand, he never understood why, because there is no why, there is no excuse, you know people often ask me that, well why did they bully him. That implies that there’s a reason, and reason implies that that is a logical answer, and it is not.
So, the excuses, whatever excuse they had in their heads to be cruel to him, it’s… Bullies are insecure people, and I believe that they saw the goodness in his heart, and it just triggered them somehow. You know it was almost like a mirror of what they were not. So, you know Danny was the light of my life, he was just a really, a good kid, and he’ll make a difference in this world.
SI1: What were some of his favorite activities?
MF: He liked video games a lot. He liked football, he started playing football, and he joined the Boy Scouts and he really enjoyed that too. He went away camping and he had a good time. But the football he really started to enjoy, and video games, and he used to draw like these, he wasn’t very good at drawing, but he would draw these little comics in his books, almost like make comic strips, he would do that, and he loved it when I cooked for him, that was one of his favorite pastimes, and movies, we used to watch a lot of superhero movies, like everybody does, the comic ones, that’s what he liked a lot.
SI1: Did he have a favorite song or food?
MF: Foods, what always sticks out in my head, was deviled eggs, every time I made deviled eggs he would act like I was giving him filet mignon or something. He liked a lot of different kinds of food, I used to cook for him and I enjoyed it because he appreciated it. Um, what else did you ask? He had a lot…he liked music, he like a lot of different kinds of bands, he liked um rock music, he even played guitar, he used to go across the street to Rustic Music and he was learning how to play guitar.
He liked the band Ghost, he liked Iron Maiden, he liked Dio, he liked a lot of rock bands. The songs that we connect with him are Rainbow in the Dark, the new one Disturbed that came out with The Sound of Silence. That song he actually wrote about on an Earth Day project, and he changed it for Earth Day, he changed the lyrics to go with Earth Day, and that was a big red flag for people that nobody caught because it was how he felt inside, it was how people don’t speak up and say anything with the wrong doing. He liked a lot of rock bands though, but Rainbow in the Dark we correlate with him a lot, and the Sounds of Silence I can’t listen to it because it makes me cry.
SI1: Favorite saint?
MF: Michael. He loved Michael, that was supposed to be his confirmation name. He used to pray for Michael. When he passed away I found a lot of things that he wrote about and he wrote, I put it on his Instagram page, how he practiced all the tools that he was taught to pray to GOD to help him with the bullying and it didn’t end, and he used to pray to Michael a lot. It was supposed to be his confirmation name.
SI1: Religious story?
MF: A favorite religious story, I wouldn’t say a favorite religious story, more about just what he learned about the way we’re supposed to… He really believed in what he learned. When they talked about the stories, like a lot of little kids do, when you hear about the stories, you know Jesus was a storyteller, so those, like he had a lot of faith, he had a very strong faith, and he believed in what he was taught and he practiced it in his life, all the good parts of it, even with me.
I remember how when the story came out how [Osama] Bin Laden was killed, and of course everybody was like, yay, yay, yay, and he was like, Ma, I’ll never forget, he was like, “Ma, that is so wrong, he was a human being,” and I will never forget it because it was like a big jolt in me, and I was like, he’s so 100% right, he was like people should not be celebrating another person’s death. He’s like, he was a human being, and I said you’re right Danny, you know Danny was like a little Buddha, and he was my teacher, too, he was my teacher too.
SI1: What would he have wanted for kids in his position?
MF: Not to take the route he did. To hang on to hope, I guess to find somebody who would listen and who will help them. The problem is we went to everybody, to his teachers, the principals, his pediatricians, we took him to a therapist, a psychiatrist, I even went to the police and made a police report against his bully because he fractured his finger and there was no arrest made, even though it was assault 3.
He watched his parents go to everybody to help, and nobody helped us help him. I think like with the foundation, for me to find a way to have support groups for these kids to come together and learn to support each other, that’s what happened last year when I had the anti-bully walk, the vision I had in my mind is that I was hoping that kids would come, is that I was hoping that I could have just one kid share their story, and a brave girl came forward and shared her story, and what happened was it opened up a flood gate that day, and that slowly other kids kept walking up to me and asking, “Can I share my story? Can I share my story?”
And, all these kids started taking the microphone and sharing their stories…and they all shared their story and the crowd just sat and listened and every story was hard to hear, but what happened after that was that all those kids who shared their stories, connected with one another and they all hung out with one another and it was not like not just a support group from one another, because they understood. They all had a story, but it was like they made friends, they finally, they had friends. I hoped that they stayed connected, but it was an opportunity for them to develop that social setting that they need.
SI1: There has been an emphasis on sexual abuse in the church. Do you think emotional abuse has been neglected?
MF: I think all the abusers are neglected, every single one of them. They are all connected, emotional, sexual, physical, mental, it’s all correlated. It all goes hand in hand. I don’t think you can…this is the thing with labels I have. People will always say sexual abuse, sexual abuse is connected to physical abuse, emotional abuse, mental abuse, it’s all connected.
So, to me, it’s all neglected. If you have not been sexually abused, but you were physically abused, you were emotionally abused, you were verbally abused, I mean, it’s still damaging. The sexual component of it is just another horrific torture, I think it’s neglected, I think it’s purposely protected and hidden, and they will invest millions to deny, hide and deny, instead of facing accountability and just doing what’s right, what is the right thing to do. You turn these abusers over and have them face accountability for their act. I fully wholeheartedly if they did that, that people would have a lot more respect for them.
SI2: Yeah, I think that it’s the reaction that people got upset with, more than even just, I think the people were just shocked and appalled, that all that stuff went on but I think the way it was handled, that’s what people really got upset about
SI1: That they hid it, and they moved them around.
MF: well, they do the same thing with the bullying. What they do with the bullying is they go after the families.
SI1 The families of the bullies, or the families of the victims?
MF: Of the victims.
SI1: So, do you think the school acted as enablers for the bullies?
MF: Absolutely. I think they did those kids a complete injustice. Not only did they allow them to get away with it, they allowed them to graduate and then they taught them a big lesson as well, you can abuse somebody else, and nothing’s going to happen to you, and they’re going to grow up into adults and they’re going to have problems.
They did a big disservice to those kids as well. You know they didn’t help them at all. Instead of nipping it in the bud and correcting the bad behavior and addressing what was really the root of their problem, because it’s not normal what they did, it was a mob. It wasn’t just, it was a mob mentality going on in that school. There was a fear in that school of the principal and the person on the board, because they used their positions of power and put fear into people.
The problem they have now with me and my family is that we’ve lost everything, we’ve lost our son, we have nothing left to lose, our family has been destroyed. We don’t care, so if you want to fight us, what more can you do to us. There’s nothing you can do, there’s just nothing left, after the loss of Danny, he was the glue to our family, the light of our…
He was everybody’s teacher, when it came to goodness, he was an old soul in a little boy’s body, and he had a lot of wisdom, and people get intimidated by that and they fear it, because it’s like I said, it’s a mirror of their own insecurities, whatever they’re lacking as a human being.
SI1: Did Danny have any teachers that were helpful?
MF: he mentioned his teacher that he had the last year, Ms. Lawyer, but no, the whole school… She tried to help him, but she was a young graduate, so they bullied her too.
SI2: That’s crazy, so it wasn’t just the kids bullying them, it was the staff?
MF: He came home from school one day and he broke my heart. He said, “ma, it’s not just the class, it’s everybody in the school, when I walk in the halls, the kids in the lower grades and the teachers, they look at me with a face of disgust, because I kept going up and complaining and complaining, and they all…” They’re gossip mongers. It was a small school, because they take it…they’d rather protect the reputation of the school than the students.
SI2: See personally, I think that’s where the Church went wrong, too. With the other thing, with all the sexual abuse crisis…was to try to protect the reputation, rather than facing it.
MF: Well, I’m not like them in Bay Ridge. I’m born in Brooklyn, I was born and raised in Brooklyn, and I’m like public enemy number when I walk in Bay Ridge. I used to go back there sometimes, I have family that lives there, and I can sense when I’m walking in the streets, certain people, older adults, they look at me with hate in their eyes because they think I’m attacking the Church. I’m not attacking the church. I’m attacking nobody. I’m addressing the people who allowed the abuse to go on. I want accountability. How could you protect people that allow that kind of abuse to go on, and abuse power? Like the principal was a bully. She got fired. She got fired.
SI2: Was it because of this whole thing?
MF: Well, from what I hear, and I don’t have any tangible proof of this, from what I was told is that her behavior never changed after the death of Danny and it got to the point that someone wrote a letter to the board to the other person I had a problem with, and they said either you get off the board, we want you off the board, or we want her fired because she’s not changing, and she got fired, in the middle of a school year, and nobody they gave no answers, and they had a priest in that church that had been moved, who was an abuser from another country that they kept quiet. That came out in the paper too.
SI1: We were going to ask if the teachers turn a blind eye to the bullying, well. They pretty much participated in it. And what did Holy Angels Catholic Academy do when this was brought to their attention?
SI1: [We] read this in the Daily News that they had you and your husband drug tested, wasn’t that also form of bullying and denial of the issue?
MF: Because they were trying to intimidate us, they were trying to say that he came from a family with big problems. They were the biggest stressors in our family life. I don’t think people understand that it doesn’t just affect the child it affects the whole family.
It got to the point, I was coming home from work sitting at the table and full of anxiety because he couldn’t do his homework and it was an 7:30 at night, and they gave him so much, they gave him an unrealistic amount of homework, it’s like and they got mad because I challenged them. You do homework when you go home? When you come to work, you teach all day, do you go home and do another four hours of work? Is that normal for a child?
SI2: I read that there were social service people, were they from the city or the Church or the school?
MF: No, they called social services on us.
SI2: So like ACS, they basically, are you serious? So, you reported bullying, and you said this was going on so, they…
MF: I wrote a letter and three days later ACS was at my house. And the guy who came here…
SI1: And that’s hard, did you have to hire an attorney for them and stuff?
SI2: That’s a scary process…
MF: No, because it was unfounded. But he said when he came in, and that’s, we couldn’t figure out who did it, first of all we were like who did this to us? And then he asked me, did you write letters to the school? And I went, those mothers, it was the school.
But I’m not the only person they did that to, that’s what they do, when you start complaining about the teachers or bullying in that school, I could tell you, I’ve had other people come forward, other parents reached out to me, they attack the family, and push the kid out of the school, they wanted him out of the school, they wanted us gone. That’s their tactic.
SI2: That’s insane.
MF: But that’s what they do to the victims, so when the victims who are sexually abused, I don’t know if you ever noticed, you’ll never hear about their story ever again. You want to know why? They make them sign these settlement agreements that will say they’ll never talk about publicly.
SI1: Non-disclosure agreements. And if they do, I know with the whole Harvey Weinstein thing, they got a settlement and then 10 years later they started telling their stories, because they weren’t afraid anymore, because what are they going to do, you going to take them all to court, and then it’s going to be like well why were these here in the first place, you weren’t supposed to have a non-disclosure agreement so you can continue violating the law, that’s not what an NDA is for.
MF: I know that, that’s what they’re trying to do to me, they well I didn’t sign an NDA, so I guess I can say this. But they offered us a settlement, and, in the settlement, they wanted me to agree to say that Danny was never bullied, which I’m never signing, and I said that the only NDA that I understand that I’ll ever sign is about the money amount of the settlement that you offered, and whatever terms.
SI2: So, a Catholic school was asking you to lie basically, that doesn’t make sense, that makes no sense.
SI1: Did the school ever suggest a religious solution for the kids?
MF: How could they, they didn’t follow it.
Si1: Is there a legal case against the school? I guess there is.
SI2: I’m shocked hearing this, I can’t imagine, it’s just so sad.
MF: you know what else they do? I could tell you this, you could write about this too. In the settlements what they do, so in our case we sued the school the principal, and the head of the board, which was Michael Long, who was the head of the conservative party at the time.
So, what they did is present a settlement offer which they added like 20 other gaddam people, which I’m not signing, and the part about I’ll never say he’s bullied, I can’t talk about people. Which I’m not doing, I’m not retracting. I am not deleting my social media and retracting everything I’ve ever said about… This is my son’s story, I’m not lying, I don’t give a s**t about your money.
SI1: For money…
MF: It’s not about money, it’s about his justice. What is most important to me, I wanted a scholarship in his name, a very detailed one by the way, that as far as details were concerned, it has to be in the news, the school is closing by the way, and they’re merging with another school St. Anslem’s in Brooklyn.
I want a scholarship offered in his name, and I would like an essay about what kindness and compassion means to that student up for the scholarship as part of the scholarship and I want to be present when they present the scholarship. That’s the terms.
I’ve yet to see that. And that part about him never being bullied, I can never say he was bullied, you’re out of your mind, he wrote a letter, it went viral, that’s like me saying my son is lying. I’m not, my son wasn’t lying, I have doctor’s records, I have proof, that people wonder about.
But what they did is that they took a picture and painted it to the world and then trashed me and my family globally, and they even printed it in the Tablet with a picture of my son’s coffin coming out of the church, and it went global.
SI1: I’m sorry, what’s the Tablet, I’ve never heard of it, is it a Brooklyn paper?
MF: That’s the Church’s paper
SI1: The Church’s paper? Even better…
MF: Which by the way you can’t find on the Internet, and I had to, someone out of literally over in Europe found it for me, because you know how hard it is to take something off the internet? And they took it out. They’re very powerful.
SI1: So, they took it down to avoid being sued for it, for slander, or libel, whichever is the written one?
MF: Well, to say that they didn’t trash me. In the Washington Post they trashed me, too. See now how would people know that ACS came to my house, ’cause it’s supposed to be confidential, so it would have to be somebody from ACS or the person who did it, there’s only two possibilities.
SI1: What was the school’s actual policy on bullying? Did they have one?
MF: Supposed to be the Oleus bullying policy, which could be a good effective policy, if you follow it. They broke their own policy, they broke their own policy.
SI1: Why do you think Danny was chosen as a target?
MF: Because, he didn’t want to fight. He was a big kid, he was a linebacker on his football team. He wasn’t a small kid. Because he was very, he believed in right and wrong, and as a human being, he just knew that their behavior was terrible.
He used to complain they were disruptive in the class, disrespectful to the teachers, not just to him. They would say rude things, and he would open his mouth and say, “oh come on stop, just don’t do that, don’t do that.” There is no real, there’s no answer to that other than you must ask the kids why they thought it was OK to be cruel to him, because they let them get away with it because it made them feel powerful, that’s an internal thing on the kids.
SI1: You just always kind of wonder why do they choose this person or that person to bully.
MF: Because they have…every kid that I’ve seen that has took their life from being bullied has a quality about them that’s soft, they’re soft spoken, they’re kind, they’re considerate, they have manners, they’re just a good person. His teachers, some of his teachers, like I had a lady who used to help him in school and she would give, she would volunteer to help and I met her personally, and she said, “I gave Danny a little Christmas present,” or, “I gave Danny a little and you want to know why I gave Danny and the other kids would ask how come he got it and they didn’t, because Danny would open the door and help me.”
When she would say I need someone to help me Danny was always the first to get up and help me, normal things that were supposed to do for one another, and I guess that upset them or made them pissed. They found any excuse, I had to go out and buy him sneakers because they made fun of his sneakers, they made fun of his weight they made fun of his haircut, they called him gay, anything that you can think of that might be construed to be meant in a derogatory way, they used that excuse.
And my son was really intelligent, and he lost, he didn’t care about his grades, you just you don’t care about school no more. How can you focus and excel in school when you’re in a hostile environment? You can’t thrive in a hostile environment. They’ve done experiments on it, with plants, one plant is treated with love, the other plant is treated with abuse. One dies the other one thrives. It’s the same thing with people.
SI1: What do you think a learning environment with a culture that permits bullying fosters in kids?
MF: More abusive adults, who lack integrity, who lack compassion.
SI1 So obviously these values would not be Christian or Catholic?
MF: I don’t think it has anything to do with religion, these qualities. I think it’s just from a human being, from a soul point, from a soul. Anybody who has a soul, who has compassion and integrity, it’s learned behavior, it’s just learned, its seen, whether you’re directly taught it, like oh this what you do in this scenario, or they’re just observing it in their environment, everybody’s like it’s the family, it’s the family, it’s not always the family.
Kids spend most of their time in school, OK. People seem to forget about that. Most of their days, most of their time every week is in school, if you sit down and you want to be literal and count the hours, most of their time is in school, so that’s their dominant environment, realize that, understand that, and focus on that environment, making that environment a positive healthy one.
So, if their family life is negative environment, at least they’ll have that as a sanctuary, a safe haven, which it is not anymore, in any school it’s not just Catholic schools, public schools do the same thing. There are cases in public schools that are not being made public that are in small little articles in papers where people won’t notice, there was a case about a young girl with a learning disability that was sexually assaulted, and [was] on the verge of suicide, and she was sexually assaulted in the stairwell and the guidance counselor knew about it, she reported to the guidance counselor, the guidance counselor did an in house investigation, did not call the parents, did not call the police.
There was another one where another girl was sexually assaulted in the auditorium in a public school, again the guidance counselor knew about it, didn’t tell anybody, and she got up one day, pretended to go to school, went up to the roof and jumped off the roof. This is middle school.
The boy in the Bronx of the school, shut down where he stabbed the kid, what they didn’t talk about in the papers is that those kids cornered him in the bathroom, now the kid who died that day had never bullied him before, but he saw all the other kids bullying him the whole time so where did he learn it that particular day to behave that way, that it was ok to pick on him, and I’m not saying what he did was correct, at all, by no means, I’m not justifying it, but I can understand that he got to the point that he felt so threatened. Do I think he meant to kill somebody, I doubt it, but when you’re abused, at some point your instinct is going to be to protect yourself and it can go awry?
SI1: I feel like bullying has become a lot worse and it’s like permissible in this culture at this point, and when I was younger I never saw bullying happen in public schools, I mean I was bullied somewhat, I was never beaten up, I mean you see movies and hear stories about kids actually getting literally beaten up, and it was more like verbal
MF: Just as damaging.
SI1: You don’t have anything broken, you can’t say someone broke my arm, you have no proof.
MF: But this is what I’m trying to change the perception of, it’s just as damaging, it really is, it stays in their brain. Danny believed there was something wrong with him, you know, because he wasn’t…I didn’t raise my son to be that machismo…oh, the tough guy, you can’t show your emotions, that’s another thing, that boys are being raised, to not show their emotions, which is a bunch of bulls**t, excuse my language.
It’s like their human beings, too, why can’t they be nurturing why can’t they give you hugs? My son gave me hugs every day. Every day we would sit on the couch, watch movies and snuggle with one another, oh, you can’t do that, momma’s boy, it’s like so, yeah he’s my son, and he loves me and I love him, he did it with his father too he did it with his sisters, why, because we loved each other. There’s nothing wrong with that, there’s nothing wrong with expressing love, as long as it’s you know, within the boundaries obviously, and respectful, giving people hugs, saying hello, smiling.
SI1: I feel like if there hadn’t been such a permissiveness in that school, they would have felt like they weren’t going to get in trouble, if they fractured his finger or beat him up.
MF: They fractured his finger twice, they allowed it.
SI1: Exactly if they would have actually done something, it wouldn’t have gotten to that point because they wouldn’t have known that, “oh, nothing’s going to happen to me. I can do anything I want, anything,” and why you would want to do that, there’s people who are bad.
MF: Because they don’t be a rat, don’t be a rat, there’s also another stigma, people don’t speak up, they’ll stand there and watch someone actually get tormented before they speak up, because they don’t want to be called a rat, they’re more afraid of that, instead of keeping it confidential, even the way they interviewed, they had Danny in the room with the bullies, that’s not how you conduct an interview, police don’t conduct interviews with the criminal and the victim in the same room.
SI2: So, they basically wanted to intimidate him, so he wouldn’t say anything
MF: All the time.
SI2: What would be a just ending to this series of events?
MF: Justice, well nothing could give us what we want, which is Danny back, healthy and happy, so what do I do, I fight to see Danny’s law passed, to see an emotional literacy curriculum mandated into this country in every school, to teach people how to behave, conflict resolution, that’s its OK if someone says something to understand everybody’s different, what might upset you might not upset me.
Everybody is different, everybody reacts differently, and to teach people how to make the most of a scenario if those kind of things come and understand that we’re all human beings, and to definitely encourage compassion empathy kindness, respect, to see that pass, to see his foundation flourish that it helps save lives, the goal is to save lives and change lives.
I think that would be the justice for Danny. That’s all I can do. There’s really nothing left to do but to honor his legacy and give him the respect,in death that he didn’t get in life, and be remembered for the boy who loved love. Because, Danny just loved love, and that’s who he was, and that’s why I do what I do for him, and I bring it with me every day, everywhere, even at work, I carry these thoughts and ideas in my head and my heart.
And, I practice them the best way that I can every day of my life. I’m a human being, too. I’m not perfect. I make mistakes. Everybody does, but what we cannot do is judge other people for them. We have to be supportive and just always try to encourage people to heal whatever hurts them and to encourage them to become the best versions of themselves.
Even those kids, those kids that hurt my son, I hope they can come to terms and face the truth about themselves, heal whatever was broken in their hearts, to make them behave that way, and not grow up into adults where they keep the cycle repeating, cause that’s a perpetual cycle.
We have to help the bullies too, people have a hard time with that, but those are the people that are broken, not just the victims, and then victims become bullies themselves. There was a scenario that came to me recently, there’s a website called the Queen of the Click, and there was this social media thing going back and forth on this page, this Brooklyn page in Bay Ridge, with adults (this is all adults now).
And, what she decided to do she said she had, and I reached out to her and tried to have a conversation with her over social media. And she was very rude to me, and she wrote this whole page on her website about her experience I guess, and she actually put the people’s names in parts of the thread, and it’s been up there for five years, though, and the issue I have with that is, first of all she’s a Public School teacher I come to find out.
Second, she published these people’s first names and last names on her website, and third is that it’s only part of the story. She said she was attacked, or whatever she was I guess verbally abused, I don’t know. The thing is we have to see the whole scenario to understand, if we’re going to have resolution, then we have to see the whole story not just bits and pieces of it.
People tend to do that. But this is adults, this is a teacher, and on newyork.gov, on the website about what cyberbullying is, she called these people cyber-terrorists. Well, my thing is now you became a cyberterrorist, because you only presenting your side of the story, and I’m not saying the way they spoke to her because what I see, it was cursing and vicious, but they didn’t do that out of the blue.
Something triggered that, and I’m not saying that whatever triggered it is correct, I’m saying present the whole story please, so we can show to young people who are reading this the proper way of conflict resolution. And, I asked her, I’m questioning, do your students see this website? And then she has all this other nice stuff on the website, that could potentially be a nice website about how to get help for things in the local neighborhood, that’s representing the neighborhood, and she’s calling them cyberterrorists. After five years, I think you’re the terrorist now. You know these people’s names are up there.
SI1: We read in heavy.com that in 2016 the grandparents sued for visitation rights. What happened with that?
MF: Oh, yeah. Well we were estranged for a lot of reasons. But like I said, behavior that’s not acceptable, when you’re not respected as a person as an adult, you don’t want your children around it.
I mean they were estranged from our children, they didn’t see our children on a regular basis, there was an estrangement between my ex-husband and his parents, and it’s not they were seeing them all the time.
It’s not like we got mad at them one day and said you can’t go see them, there was no relationship. So it was a visitation, and Danny never really knew his grandparents that well, and he wanted to visit them, and the court granted him his wishes, and unfortunately what happened in the end result is that he understood why we went to court to protect him, and he stopped going.
Because their behavior with their son was not respectful, was not kind, certainly not with me. And, they had not had a relationship and there was just like a lot of internal family turmoil where it wasn’t done out of love, it was done out of spite and control.
Like I said the behavior is a perpetual cycle, and when you separate yourself from people like that they always want to win, it’s about winning, and he had about 10 visits with them, and then he changed his mind and stopped going, because he saw what we were trying to protect him from and unfortunately he wound up getting hurt in the end.
SI1: Bullying has been found to harm emotions and their DNA structure. Do you think bullies should be treated as mentally or emotionally disturbed for causing permanent harm in their victims?
MF: Yes, they do they absolutely do. I’ve met many adults. The ironic thing is these events that I’ve had, it’s been more adults that approach me.
They definitely, they need to be like, I said they had something that they have, there’s a root problem there, it’s not normal to be abusive like that.
Something cultivated that and then they inflict it on other people, you know they grow up to be criminals, they grow up to be abusers in their own families, even the sexually abuse there have been studies that said it was, not all of them, but unfortunately the sex abusers they were victims so they became abusers…which is sad, and, I’m not comparing, I’m just saying the correlation I see is that abuse is learned and it becomes a perpetual cycle.
It has to stop so both sides of the fence, that’s the one difference I am kind of proud of with my son’s foundation is that I always do speak to the public which is very difficult about having a different perception about the bullies.
We have to learn it’s important that we learn to be understanding without judgment. I don’t use the word forgiveness because people will correlate that with religion and I don’t have any religion in [the D.A.N.N.Y. Foundation] at all, you know, it’s not about religion.
It’s about being a good human being. You don’t need to be religious to be a good person. I do have my beliefs, I believe in Jesus, but I like the Buddha too, like I said I’m more Spiritual, but I don’t speak of that when I speak publicly.
I just keep it back to the very basic human beings we’re all one, I believe in the oneness, and not to judge, nobody’s perfect.
Nobody’s perfect, and people have bad days, that’s where we have to have patience, and we have to learn to forgive and we have to let go, and that helps the victims. It’s not about the bullies, it’s about their healing, that part of it is about them.
And, I tell them forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to hang out with them and be their friend, it just means you don’t let their behavior affect you anymore, and that you’re able to carry on your life and be happy and enjoy life like everybody’s is entitled to. But I try to stay away, so I’ll just say understanding without judgment, I try to be very careful and discerning when I speak because there’s a lot of people that do dislike me, and it’s a very taboo subject.
SI2: Thank you so much for the interview.
MF Thank you for coming. I wish it was nicer weather.
SI3: Yeah…It’s not really spoken about that, like, emotional abuse can mess you up, it’s kind of de-emphasized in this society. It’s actually been found that[bullying] can mess up your DNA…It changes your DNA around.
MF: If you could send me that study, I would appreciate it. Especially with boys, there’s an emphasis on if you’re not tough, you’re not masculine. I wanted him to be a gentleman, not treating women or anybody for that matter like crap.
I remember when my husband when we found out it was a boy, and he was like, “I’m not going to hug or kiss [him].”
[Danny’s] own grandfather would stick his hand out and shake his hand, even as a baby. Who does that?
My son would go like this with his head…[Danny] was afraid of him. When [Danny] was around him, and when [Danny] went to visit him again he did the same damn thing, and I didn’t think [Danny] remembered. He was two years old, that’s the thing with my husband’s family, my husband wasn’t like that.
He was like I’m not going to hug or kiss him, and I was like you’re damn right you will I’m not having none of that s*** for my son, and of course after he was born, he was like, oh “forget this,” he would snuggle with him and hug him. Everything he never got. Everybody needs to be nurtured, and there’s no shame in that and there seems to be a shame in what’s a normal beautiful thing.
SI1 That’s one of the worst things about this pandemic, we can’t be close to each other.
MF: Everybody needs the human touch, but you still can be nurturing the best you can. This isn’t going to stop me from hugging my kids. I don’t encourage people to do that either, if you’re that paranoid, put a gown on and hug your kids.