Saturday, June 23, 2012

When Bullying Hits Home: The Dax Catalano Story

We’re making big strides in the anti-bullying movement, and – like it or not – we have some celebrities and entertainment media to thank for some of the progress.

From Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation to all the famous names who’ve contributed to the It Gets Better Project, musicians and actors alike are speaking out to raise awareness and provide resources.

Artists are contributing with actual movies and music, too: The Bully Project gained heavy publicity when people petitioned to have its movie, Bully, changed from Rated R to Rated PG-13 so more kids could see it, and “Bully,” the first single off rock band Shinedown’s latest album, highlights the dark reality (and thoughts) many bully victims face.

Yet, while these campaigns and projects are excellent ways to spread the word and encourage victims of bullying to seek help, nothing hits home quite like a real life story – especially one that shows us how bullying affects an entire family, even years after the bullying has stopped.

The following is one such family’s story:

After commenting on an earlier Celebrity Psychings post about how not to react to cyber bullies, Maureen Catalano of Lewiston, Maine agreed to share what she, her husband, and especially her son Dax have gone through since Dax nearly died at the hands of a bully in March 2011.

Dax was the victim of cyber bullying that turned into a physical assault that left Dax fighting for his life. Although the two had mutual friends, Dax and his bully, Jacob Estes, didn’t personally know each other. Estes wasn’t happy that Dax was dating a friend’s ex-girlfriend, and threatening Facebook messages soon escalated into a physical assault outside a local restaurant.

Estes is now serving three years behind bars, and the District Attorney has decided to charge the two minors involved with misdemeanors.

You can learn more about the story from the Lewiston-Auburn Sun Journal (Facebook Threats Behind Lewiston Mall Beating, Auburn Teen to Serve Three Years in Prison for Assault) and WCSH Portland (Assault Victim’s Family Speaks Out About Cyber Bullying).

Below is a glimpse into the family’s life as the dust settles and they work to not only come to terms with Dax’s attack, but also to help spread awareness about bullying and bully prevention.

(WARNING: Graphic images and language follow.)

Dax Catalano after surgery.

My name is Maureen Catalano and Dax Catalano is my only child. While my story is the beginning, awareness is the journey we can all take together to prevent one less tragedy from bullying and cyber bullying and I thank you for taking the time to come along…

Back in January, 2011, it all started with a message on Facebook…

“Im gunna kick your teeth out bitch!!! and then imma cut your f-ing hands off!”

Dax responded, “Bitch, I don’t even know you.”

To quote Dax:

I did not know Jake until he messaged me in January 2011 on Facebook threatening to cut my hands off. I replied that I didn’t even know him. The messages continued as threats and mindless provocations such as ‘fight me right now.’ My replies to Jake revolved around the fact that I did not know him or why he wanted to fight. Exchanges of this manner continued for a week or two before they stopped.

Then in February, Jake sent me another message: ‘fight me right now.’ During this time, I was also getting threats from another kid. He threatened to come to my house, ‘knock me on my ass’ and ‘leave me staring up at the stars.’

Messaging between us lasted two or three days and I had this on my mind almost constantly. It was a terrible feeling not knowing who is ‘coming after you’ and not be sure why they are. I never realized back then that I was a victim of terrorizing and cyber bullying.

On March 1st, 2011, Dax came face to face with his cyber bully and was left to die. Suffering a skull fracture in his left temporal area and a left temporal epidural hematoma (which is a bleed in the brain). He required an emergency craniotomy and an evacuation of a pint of epidural blood.

Our lives changed that day and still today we suffer the consequences… I offer you a glimpse into my world best quoted by my husband, who read this as part of his Impact Statement at Jake’s sentencing:

Maybe a few days ago I knew what to say, but again the anger and hostility that has never left since that day in March rears its ugly face. Being pushed into reliving the details, the pain of not knowing if Dax, my only son, my best friend will ever be there again for me to hold, to share, to trust.

The fear and pain is unbearable for me to let go and so it is with a broken heart, my family falls apart to bitter fighting and rage, only to find solace in separate rooms. We are broken, our family crushed by the actions of you, Jake. Your physical blows to my son, the kick that was seconds from ending his life, and the never healing invisible wounds that affect my family today…months after.

To know that the 36 hours of “death watch” at Maine Medical Center’s PICU, the news from the doctor that IF Dax survives he will be in a wheelchair, have speech, memory issues, etc. and the panic attack I had after seeing the scar from the surgeon cutting into my son’s skull to release the blood clot that took me away from my son’s bedside during those critical hours are nothing compared to the pain of knowing Dax is not the same…and neither am I. The walls around our hearts building thicker and higher everyday. I do not know if we can survive this as a family. I have stopped caring, my feelings buried deep.

Jake, what you have taken away from me, my family, our happiness, our security, can never be repaid. I can’t find the words in me anymore to fix what you have broken. I am tired and don’t want to be here anymore, in this living nightmare where even my dreams are not an escape. The physical impacts of being sick to my stomach every morning…watching my wife slowly dying as she struggles everyday to hold her tears back, choking on her nerves and managing to fake a smile to carry on and go to work as again Dax’s bed lies empty after a night of arguments over the choices he has turned toward to kill the pain you have brought. Watching my son and not knowing if today we may get the call from some stranger that Dax is not coming home as the news reports another tragedy…or finding an empty room where Dax used to sleep.

We can’t turn back and erase those days, but only replace those memories with the knowledge that I will be able to reach some of you today, that our story of hurt and pain will help a victim of cyber bullying/bullying to know they are not alone, where they can turn for help, to reach out to those would be bullies and change their minds, to empower the bystanders to stand up, call for help, and get involved.

Maureen Catalano was active in urging the Maine legislators’ Appropriations Committee to pass LD 1237, a bullying/cyber bullying bill for schools. Although it is the Catalano’s hope that one day, Dax and Jake can educate about the dangers of bullying together, the consequences Jake faces show the family is not tolerant of bullying. It is their hope that this story become a powerful and necessary message to adolescents and adults alike that BULLYING IS A CRIME PUNISHABLE BY LAW.


Danneel Harris Audrina Patridge Danica Patrick

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