WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — “I just want to know why.”
Toll Gate High School girls soccer coach Lonna Razza said that several times Tuesday after a hand-painted memorial to one of her players was defaced earlier this week.
The large rock located outside the school was decorated as a tribute to Gianna Cirella, who died last November after battling a serious and sudden illness. She was just 16 years old, and Wednesday would’ve been the start of her senior year. She also would’ve been the soccer team’s starting goalkeeper for their first game Wednesday night, according to Razza.
At some point Sunday night into early Monday morning, the memorial was covered in splashes of white paint. The act of vandalism was only visible for a few hours, however, as her family, friends and teammates jumped into action Monday and repainted the rock Cirella’s favorite color, purple.
The group returned Tuesday to finish the job, reapplying their hand prints and repainting Cirella’s jersey, a soccer ball and #gistrong, which was used to rally around Cirella after she fell ill last year.
“We’re going to be #gistrong forever,” Razza said Tuesday.
“We’re not going to let a little paint defeat us. And we’re not. We’re not.”#GiStrong rock outside of Toll Gate is repainted after vandalism. This time with a few more hand prints. @wpri12 pic.twitter.com/OfPoAU5ejG— Steve Nielsen (@Stevenielsen) September 4, 2018
Razza said getting ready for a new season without Cirella has been rough on the players and coaches, especially when you factor in the vandalism, but they’ve been able to turn a negative situation into a positive bonding experience.
“We’ve had talks,” Razza said. “Me with just the girls, some of the parents have talked to them and tried to get them to settle down a little bit, realize at the end of the day we’re all trying to achieve the same goal. We just want to make our school, our teammates, our coaches, our families, the community proud.”
“The kids are so resilient when it comes to getting together and supporting each other,” she added.
Razza said she’s more interested in finding out why someone would vandalize the memorial than seeing those responsible be punished. She also said she doesn’t want to see her players lash out and potentially get into trouble.
“They want to know too,” she said. “They want to know why. Why would you do this to our friend, to our teammate?”
“We were all disappointed, we were sad, we were hurt, we were angry,” Razza recalled. “Then we got here yesterday and it was like, ‘you know what? What are we going to do? We’re going to move forward, we’re going to fix it and we’re going to paint it again.”
Razza said the new paint job features more hand prints than before, despite many of last year’s seniors being away at college right now. She said they’ll be able to add theirs to the rock once they come home.
Warwick police have not released any new information in the case at this point but Razza said she’s been told they have some leads as they continue to investigate. Anyone with information about the vandalism is urged to call them at (401) 468-4200.