Gingerella's story spreading around the world

Groton — Ashley Shaw Giordano is using social media to spread a message around the world about her friend, Joey Gingerella.

From coast to coast and in countries as far away as Kuwait and Australia, people have been writing the message, "Joey Gingerella lived and died a hero and we know it in (the name of their location)," and sending it to Giordano via Facebook. She made a slide show of the photographs that had received more than 24,000 views as of Monday. She composed a Youtube video and printed out the photographs and presented them in an album to Gingerella's parents.

"It's priceless," said Gingerella's mother, Tammy de la Cruz. "It brings me some pride to have his story appreciated. As far as I'm concerned, there's some kind of legacy here, and I want to keep it going."

Gingerella, 24, was shot to death on Dec. 11, 2016 while trying to stop a man from beating his girlfriend in the parking lot of Ryan's Pub in Groton.  His accused killer, Dante Hughes, was captured two days later when police said he attempted to flee to Canada. His case is being tried in New London Superior Court, where his next court appearance is scheduled for Feb. 23.

Gingerella had spoken publicly about his addiction to prescription opioids and worked to help others through Community Speaks Out, a non-profit organization founded by his parents and others to help families struggling with addiction. 

Giordano, 23, said she and Gingerella had bonded over their respective battles with addiction and that he got her involved with Community Speaks Out. She said she had achieved ten months of sobriety as of last week.  

Her social media project started as a whim, Giordano said. She joined a Facebook group called, "I love you to the moon, with a pit stop in...," which was intended for people to use in creating Valentines with greetings from all over the world. She told Gingerella's story on the page and asked people to make a sign about Gingerella and take a photograph showing their location.

"I thought it was the perfect opportunity to do something for him," she said.

The results were astounding. She said she received more than 150 responses within a few days. Some of the photos are personalized with landmarks such as the AT&T football stadium in Arlington, Texas, the New York New York casino in Las Vegas and the blue-green waters of Hawaii. She received photographs from as far away as Australia, Indonesia and Kuwait, where Giordano said the message was sent from a classmate of Gingerella from Fitch Senior High School.

Giordano said she especially likes the photograph from Puerto Rico, because Gingerella, who didn't have any Puerto Rican ancestors that he knew of, nevertheless felt a kinship to the island's people and joked that he was a "Sorta Rican."

"We had no idea how able we are to spread his message and tell his story through social media to people outside of who we know," Giordano said.

De la Cruz said she has found some comfort in spending time with Giordano.

"Ashley spent a lot of time giving advice and talking to Joey," she said. "Her being in my life is kind of filling a bit of a void that we both have."

She said he doesn't know if her son knew the impact he was having on people or how much they simply enjoyed his smile. Mourners packed a memorial service held in the auditorium at Fitch Sr. High School, the very same place where Gingerella had first told the story of his struggle with addiction and there have been several memorial benefits.

"The life lesson learned is give people some positive appreciation," de la Cruz  said. "Uplift them and let them know how important they are, even if they are a work in progress."

k.florin@theday.com

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