By Jared Chausow
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Marian was the most involved with her son, and she hid his illness from everyone besides her immediate family. With Brian, who was studying to be a physician, she would discuss the clinical aspects of Belluccis situation. She relied on Vanessa for emotional support. But even Marians sister, Terre, who lived nearby and whom she saw frequently, knew very little about what was happening. Friends, too, according to Ciervo, had no idea that Bellucci was sick; they thought Marian and her husband were just overworked. My sister was a very private person, and I know that she was going about it in her own way to get some help, Ciervo says. She didnt talk too much about it, and, you know, I didnt ask. When she wanted to tell me something, I listened. She added: She was disappointed that Eric wasnt what he could have been.
Its less clear how Arthur dealt with his sons illness. His children say he was supportive of Marians choices about Belluccis care. He also felt that if Bellucci got violent, he could physically handle his son. At one point, according to the Staten Island Advance, Arthur asked an old friend who had been in law enforcement about whether it was legal for him to trace his sons movements. (The friend, Frank Floridia, did not respond to multiple requests from the Voice for an interview.)
By 2008, Bellucci was losing weight rapidly, and had become a chain smoker, smoking two to three packs a day. He would take a puff or two on a cigarette, throw it out, and immediately start another. Arthur, whose father had died of emphysema, was especially hurt by the smoking, his children say. Bellucci was also smoking pot constantly, and his siblings suspect that he was abusing cocaine as well.
On a February afternoon, Vanessa was driving into the city when Bellucci called and told her that he was standing in the shower and was about to slit his wrists. She drove home immediately and found her brother in what she called a psychotic haze. The family called 911 and Bellucci was taken by ambulance to Bayley Seton Hospital, about 25 minutes away. But he was never admitted, the family says. He probably just convinced them that he was OK, says Vanessa, adding that her brother, like many schizophrenics, could disguise his illness when he needed to.
That same year, Bellucci missed Brians wedding in California, where he was supposed to be best man. The day before the event, he called from Israel, saying that he had to stay there for business. So that put a stamp on it, Brian says. Now, its like hes missing things. Now its starting to feel like, not that its falling apart, but that we cant be a family.
In August 2009, Bellucci was finally hospitalized. He had taken his mothers computer into his room and barricaded the door, claiming he was protecting her from bad people who were going to hack into her machine. His mother screamed at him, trying to make him understand that her companys files were on the computer. He wouldnt open the door.
Ciervo says it was the first time she really understood how sick her nephew was. It was also the first time anyone outside the immediate family had seen that side of him. Vanessa called the police to have her brother removed from the house.
Bellucci was admitted to Staten Island University Hospital, where he stayed for about six weeks. During his hospital stay, he was injected with a long-acting medication, which his siblings say made him very mellow, almost without personality. Marian went to visit him every day, but for the most part he refused to see her and the other family members. He was furious for being hospitalized against his will, and blamed everything on his familyspecifically his sister, Vanessa. It was during that hospital stayabout six years after his illness began to surfacethat he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
The hospitals on-site psychiatrist, Dasen Brajkovic, told the family that he was going to bring a petition to a judge that recommended Bellucci for an assisted outpatient treatment. An AOT court order would give doctors the right to come to the house and medicate him there. (Brajkovic did not respond to requests to be interviewed.)
Belluccis siblings say that Brajkovic told them he felt they had a strong case for an AOT order. The family was elated. We thought that could have been the answer to our prayers, Brian says.
The law that allows this is called Kendras Lawafter Kendra Webdale, a young woman who died in January 1999 after being pushed in front of a New York City subway train by a man who was not receiving treatment for his mental illness.
Kendras Law has been the subject of bitter political fights. Civil liberties advocates have argued that it infringes on the rights of competent mentally ill people to make their own health care decisions and to refuse treatment if they choose. The ACLU and other groups argue that Kendras Law was supposed to apply only to individuals with a history of violencea small percentage of the mentally illbut was being applied to anyone who did not comply with a doctors prescription. The ACLU has helped defeat a similar statute in New Mexico.