A White Butterfly for Joan
On Saturday, March 19, 2022, I discovered this informative, inspiring, and very sad granite memorial in Hillsdale, NJ, a small town where I take my granddaughter Quinn for gymnastics. While I wait the hour and a half, I read and buy hard to find items at a local grocery store like creamed spinach and a scrumptious cranberry muffin to share with Quinn. (She eats the muffin. I eat the cranberries.) And I do my daily walking.
Until Saturday, however, I had not walked past the charming commuter railroad station, located at the corner of Hillsdale's main intersection. That is where I found the Joan Angela
D'Alesandro White Butterfly Sculpture and Garden Memorial.
Dedicated in 2014, the memorial is in honor of 7-year-old Joan, who, in 1973, went to a neighbor's house to sell Girl Scout cookies. The neighbor, a 26-year-old high school chemistry teacher, sexually assaulted and murdered Joan and dumped her body behind a boulder in a wooded area. Spurred to activism when she learned that the murderer could be paroled after 14 years in prison, Joan's mother, Rosemarie, relentlessly and successfully lobbied for passage of state and federal laws that ban parole for the murder of minors under 18 involving sexual assault. (The original Joan's Law passed in 1997 was for minors 14 and under.)
There is a sweet photograph of Joan in her Brownie uniform on the granite memorial. A long
description describes the crime, and Rosemarie's lifelong work as a victim's rights advocate. It ends with a list of state and federal laws that "keep child predators behind prison bars without paroles"
On the back of the memorial, you will see a large white butterfly carved near the top. Rosemarie embraced it as a symbol when one appeared in 2006 during her second visit to the site in Harriman State Park where Joan's body was found on Easter. The motto of the Joan Angela D'Alessandro Memorial Foundation is inscribed across the bottom: "Remember Joan today so tomorrow's children will be safe." .
The murderer died in prison in 2021. Joan continues her work as an advocate and protector.
I moved to New Jersey in 1979;I remember reading about Governor Christine Todd Whitman
signing the original Joan's Law in 1997, but I did not make the connection with Hillsdale, until I happened upon the brick path leading between a small "Child Safety Fountain" and a
green bench with a white butterfly to an informative, inspiring, and a very sad granite memorial.