Finding Ways to Remember Joan

By Rosemarie D’Alessandro

D'Alessandro 1Forty-one years ago, I survived one of the most horrific experiences anyone could ever have to go through: the rape and murder of my seven-year-old daughter, Joan, at the hands of a neighbor to whom she was delivering Girl Scout cookies. He lived just three houses away and claimed that he knew how to lure children because he was a teacher. Her case became an historic one, causing changes in Girl Scout rules and making parents more vigilant in how they monitored their children. In a way, society would never be quite so innocent again.


Since then, I have worked to find ways to help protect other families from a similar experience, while commemorating my daughter and all she gave to the world during her brief time here. Through social action, setting up a new foundation, and creating a memorial, I have found new meaning and the strength to go on.


Joan was a happy, contented child with a twinkle in her eyes and a smile that warmed your heart. She stood up for herself, even at three years old, without reservation. She had a gentleness about her that went along with her spunkiness and social nature. Her outgoing character was balanced with enjoying peaceful times alone. She wasn’t afraid to try out a new experience such as ice skating or diving from the high board, putting herself into it wholeheartedly. A classmate told me how Joan brought her into the group and made her feel accepted.


I will always remember her last words she spoke to me as she ran out the door: “I will be right back.”


The loss was so great. I went through three months of complete shock; the smallest things could cause me enormous pain. But I knew I had to make a decision about whether to move forward, and I chose to live my life. To me, her death on Holy Thursday and being found on Easter Sunday was in its own way a message of hope.


The meaning of this message became all the more clear in 1993 when I found out that her killer was eligible for parole, 20 years after my child’s murder. I knew that I had to fight this. I began a grassroots movement by speaking to the media and starting a petition and ribbon campaign, in her favorite color green, to advocate for the denial of parole for the killer. Eighty thousand signatures helped to keep him in prison.


I would have to fight again each time the killer became eligible for parole, raising awareness of the safety of all children and families. During this process I saw a bigger picture, and that something had to be done to change this process. I therefore fought for the adoption of laws guaranteeing that such criminals would remain behind bars for life without the possibility of parole. We found success with Joan’s Law, which mandates that anyone who murders a child during the commission of a sex crime will never get out of prison. However, it is not retroactive and cannot apply to us.


But, at least three Joan’s Laws were signed and went into effect in New York, New Jersey, and finally on the federal level. I remember standing in front of the Capitol steps with Marc Klaas and Congressman Bob Frank as we pushed for Joan’s Law and other, stronger child safety regulations. At present, I am working on a new law in New Jersey to expand Joan’s Law to protect children under 18. Hopefully, Joan’s Law can be the goal for other states as well.


I continue to commemorate Joan in other ways as well. In 1998, Joan’s special inspiration guided me to form the Joan Angela D’Alessandro Memorial Foundation. The Foundation helped bring attention to child protection safety, enrich the lives of at-risk and underprivileged children, and promote victims’ rights.


Since its formation, more than 19 fundraisers have been held and the Foundation has donated funds through its Fun, Education, and Safety Program. At-risk children and youth from Paterson and Passaic, NJ, have been able to go to the Washington, DC, Radio City Music Hall in New York, the Amish Country, and the New Jersey shore. The YCS Holly Center in Hackensack, NJ, has been able to take 65 children to Great Adventure for a dream day and children from the Jumoke School in Connecticut have been able to learn about careers with working dogs.

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Then, in 2013, the 40th anniversary of Joan’s passing, I began to work on a project that would ensure that Joan and the safety of all children would never be forgotten. This past June my vision became reality with the creation of the Joan Angela D’Alessandro White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden in the center of the town of Hillsdale, NJ, by the train station. This permanent granite sculpture tells Joan’s story and stands with pride in the midst of a colorful, lush garden with a custom-made bench that has Joan’s signature on it. The White Butterfly that is carved on the front of the sculpture is a symbol of Joan’s spirit bringing hope and joy. It became a sign after I saw a white butterfly at the site where Joan’s body was found in 2006.


The sculpture and the surrounding garden will leave a lasting impression on all who view it for many years to come, and help to spread Joan’s story and promote social justice and child protection awareness. Joan’s legacy goes on with all the children she has saved and continues to save. Wouldn’t it be impactful if there were child safety sculptures and gardens in other states too?


For more information and to get involved, please visit our website at or email Rosemarie D’Alessandro at

Girl Scouts Digital Cookie

girl scoutCongratulations to Girl Scouts of the USA (GSUSA) for unveiling Digital Cookie, a groundbreaking new addition to the Girl Scout Cookie Program that creates a fun, safe, interactive space for girls to sell cookies. Digital Cookie adds a digital layer that expands and strengthens the ways girls learn the essential 5 Skills of goal setting, decision making, money management, people skills, and business ethics. The future of the Girl Scout Cookie Program, Digital Cookie will introduce vital 21st-century lessons about online marketing, app usage, and ecommerce to more than 1 million excited Girl Scouts who will be in the driver’s seat of their own digital cookie businesses.


Digital Cookie emphasizes the safety of both girls and their customers. Girls and their caregivers take an Internet safety pledge before using the web-based platform, and caregivers must approve all updates and changes girls make when customizing their Digital Cookie site. Girls using the mobile platform will adhere to the same safety standards as those participating in traditional Girl Scout Cookie sales.


As a child safety advocate I have long been aware of the challenges that face Girl Scouts as they gear up for the annual Cookie Drive, a fundamental fundraiser for Girl Scout Councils nationwide. Whether it is a group of girls setting up shop outside a supermarket, interacting with volunteers, or knocking on doors in their own neighborhood, safety challenges can seem daunting, even in the “safest” neighborhoods.

Rosemarie D'Alessandro with a portrait of her daughter Joan

Rosemarie D’Alessandro with a portrait of her daughter Joan

My friend Rosemarie D’Alessandro lost her only daughter, 7-year-old Joan, 41 years ago while delivering Girl Scout Cookies. “A neighbor raped and murdered of my daughter as she was delivering Girl Scout cookies. He lived just three houses away and claimed that he knew how to lure children because he was a teacher.” Rosemary has since worked to find ways to help protect other families from a similar experience, while commemorating her daughter and all she gave to the world during her brief life.


Digital Cookie provides girls with an important foundation in technology that will be vital to their experiences in school, business, and life in general in the years ahead. Digital Cookie will also allow customers to help girls learn 21st-century skills grounded in technology, along with valuable interpersonal skills girls will acquire through their continued participation in traditional booth and door to door sales.


“For almost a century, the Girl Scout Cookie Program has been teaching girls to be leaders in the world of business and finance, and we intend to ensure that legacy continues in the digital age,” said Anna Maria Chávez, CEO of GSUSA. “Digital Cookie is a game-changer for Girl Scouts, and a quantum leap forward in the evolution of the cookie program, coupling traditional sales activities with an online sales experience that teaches skills like online marketing and ecommerce, all in a digital space that puts an emphasis on learning, fun, and safety. If you buy Girl Scout Cookies online this year, you could be helping to prepare the next female leader of a global tech giant who changes our world forever. Join us in making Girl Scout history this cookie season!”