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If you had asked me where I thought Eric Bellucci would be right now, I would say . . . working as the manager of some company, running things! says Raymond Wheeler, a Stuyvesant assistant principal who was also Belluccis band director. Of the thousands of students he has taught since the 1970s, Wheeler says Eric Bellucci was one of the five he considered the most memorable. He was bright, articulate, and he had that magic personality, that charm. He could get things done, and people wanted to do what he wanted them to do. I noticed that right away as a teacher. And yet, Wheeler says, Bellucci handled his popularity without an ounce of arrogance.
A student who worked for the football team but did not want her name used, has a similar recollection: A lot of guys who are popular can be jerksthats the stereotype. Eric wasnt one of them. He was a strong player, and a lot of guys looked up to him, she says. At an academically demanding school like Stuyvesant, even being a football team captain did not confer automatic social stature, and she says it was Erics personality that made him so popular.
But Brian remembers his older brother differently. He was completely egotistical about everything he did, he says, Eric would never take any criticism. He would fire the insults right back. Everybody yessed him. His third-grade teacher probably yessed him. He adds: With the illness, that became narcissistic behavior.
Wheeler can still remember where he was when he heard about the murders. He said his whole body went cold. If you were to ask me if Eric Bellucci was going to end up in the mess he ended up in? I would say never in a million years.
After his senior year, as quarterback and captain of the Stuyvesant High School Peglegs, Bellucci was named an All-State Scholar by the New York State High School Football Coaches Association and won a scholarship to Williams College in Massachusetts.
He was listed on the 1998 football team roster as a six-foot-three, 210-pound freshman wide receiver and defensive back. Mike Whalen, the teams coach at the time, says that Bellucci was extremely disappointed to find out that he wasnt good enough to play quarterback at the school. Many guys would have just walked way, he says. But to his credit, he worked hard and started as an outside linebacker. He worked his way up the ladder. I think, in his heart, he thought he should have been starting quarterback, but when I told him that would never happen, he didnt give up.
Like many students in college, Bellucci struggled to settle on a major, first choosing pre-med and then political science. Later, he decided he wanted to be in finance and did an internship at Merrill Lynch. His academic performance began to taper off, but only slightly. He was very involved with his team, but didnt act like a jock. He was a very unique individual, in that he didnt always have to hang around a certain group of guys, says Whalen. I would see him on campus with lots of different kinds of people. He traveled in a lot of different circles.
Whalen says he never noticed any signs of mental illness. After college, however, he did notice a change. The football team at Williams is extremely close-knit, and alumni tend to come back for years to attend games. But Bellucci, though he played for four years and was always involved with the team, never showed up to a game after college. And he never once went back to see his coaches.
Belluccis siblings believe that in college he began using anabolic steroids (they say their parents found empty containers in his room when he was away). Whalen says he didnt see evidence of it. The Belluccis also say their brother used cocaine and began smoking pot more frequently. (Six years later, he would be a chronic drug user.) If true, drug use would have almost certainly exacerbated the onset of his schizophrenia. Dawn Velligan, director of the Division of Schizophrenia and Related Disorders at the University of Texas, tells the Voice that in patients who have an underlying predisposition for mental illness, drug use can help trigger the disease. Schizophrenia typically develops in late adolescence and early adulthood, but Velligan says that many people can start exhibiting more subtle signs of the disease years before that.
After Williams, Bellucci enrolled at Brooklyn Law School, but almost immediately seemed to lose interest in classes. Instead, he took up the filmmaking and other obsessions. He dropped out of school in 2004, moved back home, and began formulating plans that were increasingly far-fetched. He told his family that he wanted to be a photographer, and then a model, and then an actor. He bought thousands of dollars worth of photography equipment. He would hatch grandiose business plans, and took trips to Paris, Italy, and even Israel to execute them. He always referred to these trips as business ventures, but no one was quite sure what he was doing when he traveled.