Editor’s note: This story contains sensitive material and descriptions associated with domestic violence that may be unsettling for some readers.
With Valentine’s Day right in the middle of the month, many associate February with love.
Sarah Ripoli associates it with something quite different, in part because February is also National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month.
April 8, 1999 remains a day Ripoli can never forget. Through her website, she started publicly sharing her story to show people that she remained resilient through a family tragedy — losing her mother to an act of domestic violence.
Ripoli established clothing company Angel Energy to generate domestic abuse awareness. She donates 25 percent of the proceeds to a different nonprofit each month that helps women who suffer from domestic violence.
This is her story.
The Sun: What’s your story with domestic violence?
Ripoli: I grew up in a very “normal” life in Medford. It was a nice, upscale neighborhood and my parents had great jobs and I was an only child. On the outside it looks perfect, but on the inside it was very dark.
I was young at the time. I do remember some things and it was my mom’s experience with extreme violence in my house. As a kid, you don’t really know when something’s not right, and it got to the point where it was so bad, my mom picked me up when I was in first grade at Taunton Forge.
This was in March of 1999. I was in first grade and my mom came and picked me up at 11 a.m. and called me down for early dismissal. She was running away with me and so she picked me up from school and we went to the airport and flew out to Florida. My grandma who lives in Mount Laurel has a vacation home there, and we didn’t have anything with us. I was 6 at the time and I remember my mom being on the phone a lot talking to her lawyer and stuff like that and to my grandparents.
We were in Florida for about three days and we came back. At the time I didn’t know why, but we went to my grandparents’ house. My mom’s lawyer advised her to not stay there with me because if she wanted custody of me, it wouldn’t look good for her. We came back and for a short time being, I would go back and forth to my grandparents’ house or my dad’s. I knew something was wrong there because of the vibe of not having my mom and (I) knew she was trying to get custody of me.
(My parents) were in a custody battle and I think it was April 7, where they gave her temporary custody of me and she said in front of my dad, the court and lawyers that she needs to get her stuff. My dad said she could come on April 8 to get her stuff back.
When she went to do that, my dad said he would have people there and it was supervised. It was really supervised by myself and my (paternal) pop-pop, and it was just us two who were supervising it. We were on the couch downstairs and my mom was moving things up and down the stairs. My pop-pop fell asleep on the couch. She was getting her clothes and bringing it up and down, the last thing she said to me was “Sarah, get your hands out of your mouth.” She went upstairs and I’ll never forget it … I heard her scream “Frank no!” and it sounded like two bricks being slammed together, and I sat there.
I felt so panicked. I knew something was wrong and it was my first real feeling of anxiety. My dad came downstairs and grabbed my pop-pop and my dad was saying, “Come on, let’s go,” and I tried to go up the stairs and my dad was blocking me.
I was asking him “Where’s mommy?” and he said “Mommy’s resting right now; we are just moving around furniture.” My pop-pop was in a rush and was like, “Come on, let’s go.” We got in the car and he (my pop-pop) said, “Mom’s in heaven now” and I didn’t know what that meant at the time and it took me a very long time until I kind of processed that.
I feel like where I am in life right now, this is how I feel and there’s nothing I can do to change what happened. If I could make a difference, spread awareness and share my story, and share the things my mom went through and the signs to look for, it would be the closest to healing I would get to.
As the child of a woman who was shot to death by her husband, Ripoli said she created her apparel company in honor of her mother and to raise funds and awareness about the cause of her death.
“I was so hesitant to talk about my story for so long because I didn’t want people to think about me differently,” Ripoli admitted. “But I have to be honest: I grew up and lived a really good life.”
She went to Lenape High School after moving back and forth from both sets of grandparents’ homes in Marlton and Mount Laurel. There she joined the school’s cheerleading team and went on to graduate from Monmouth University with a bachelor of arts degree in public relations.
Her domestic violence advocacy takes the form of public speaking appearances at schools and police stations, along with Miss New Jersey USA 2020 Gina Mellish.
Despite sharing her story, Ripoli said it does not get easier when she talks about losing her mother. (Her father served time but is now out of prison.) But she wants to continue to grow the movement and encourage others to speak up and show how common domestic violence is.
“I let [people] know that if it’s happening at home to them, or if they’re in a relationship themselves, know the signs to look for,” Ripoli added. “If they’re a child of parents who are in this, they’re not alone and there are people who can relate.”
To view Ripoli’s apparel website, visit ShopAngelEnergy.com.
Editor’s note: If you or someone you know is dealing with domestic abuse, contact the New Jersey Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 572-SAFE (7233), Burlington County’s Domestic Violence Hotline at (856) 834-0599 (24-Hour), the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or the police by dialing 9-1-1.