When Sarah Ripoli was ready to go public with the tragedy she experienced when she was 6 years old, when her father Frank Ripoli Jr. fatally shot her mother Brenda Ripoli, she sent a message to her sorority sisters and told them what had happened first.
It was December 2018 and many responses she received were “but you are so normal.”
For more than two decades, Ripoli was shielded from the details of the murder, aside from just knowing her father killed her mother at their Medford home in Burlington County. She was in the house at the time. Not until recently had she learned all the details of what transpired on April 8, 1999, through the help of Jan Hefler, a journalist who spent years covering the tragic story for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Ripoli said she reached a point in her life where she was ready to know.
“It was my deepest darkest secret,” she said.
Now 28, Ripoli is sharing her tragedy to help others like her mom, who suffered years of domestic violence at the hands of her father, through her company Angel Energy, a domestic violence awareness based clothing line and boutique.
“I was an only child,” she said. “My parents had me late in their marriage … I feel like I was sent here to do this good thing and put together Angel Energy.”
When Ripoli was finally ready to learn the details of what had happened, she had to do a bit of research. Her mom and dad’s parents, who both helped raise her, were aging and details were suppressed and not so easily forthcoming.
Also, the tragedy happened at a time when the internet was fairly new and archives of newspaper articles of her parents’ story were not readily available with a simple Google search.
Ripoli said her mother’s best friend suggested she reach out to the journalist of the newspaper articles. At the time, Hefler had retired, but Ripoli found her on Facebook. In a message to Hefler in September 2019, she said she was the “little girl from the story.”
Messages and lunch followed.
The Ripoli murder was one of the biggest cases of Hefler’s career. A social worker had told her not to be surprised if “the little girl” would contact her one day. Ripoli said Hefler was able to fill in all the details for Ripoli and the story came full circle this October when the Philadelphia Inquirer did a 20-year anniversary story on the case.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Ripoli said of learning about all the details. “To be honest it’s been really hard to relive … I never knew my dad not only threatened to kill my mother, but me too. My mom was tortured … it was heartbreaking.”
Ripoli said she was only able to take details in small doses.
“My heart would break and I would allow myself to be sad for a week and I would bounce back, putting my energy into Angel Energy,” she said.
Ripoli’s mother was in the process of leaving her father and moving her things out of the house when her dad shot her. Ripoli was downstairs watching TV with her dad’s father at the time.
Along with Hefler and news articles, Ripoli has also been going through 20 years of her mom’s items, which are in boxes in the basement of her grandparents’ home in South Jersey. She said from time to time, she’ll find hidden messages from her mom like “trying to escape.”
During her discussions with Hefler, Ripoli learned she was part of a three-year custody battle between both sets of her grandparents – her dad’s side Frank Ripoli Sr. and Betty Ripoli and her mom’s side Gerald and Ina Berman. Frank Ripoli Sr. and Gerald Berman have since passed away.
At the time, Ripoli said both her parents were career-driven and she would often stay with her dad’s mom. She had told the judge she would feel more comfortable staying with her dad’s parents. Eventually, the judge awarded custody to her mom’s parents, who built a house she grew up in.
“I grew up normal in a neighborhood where I played with my neighbors,” she said. “I had a good relationship with both my grandparents. It’s crazy how it worked. I was raised by everyone and it was nice to have different figures in my life.”
One relationship she does not have is with her father. He was released from prison in February 2016 after serving 15 years. He had entered a plea deal for aggravated manslaughter.
“It definitely feels there was no justice,” Ripoli said of her dad’s sentence. “The last I spoke to him I was 15 years old. It was Christmas Eve, I don’t know what escalated the conversation, but I remember him saying ‘she [my mom] deserved it.’ ”
Ripoli, who lives in Hoboken, had left her corporate job in February 2019 to follow her passion into fashion. She began Angel Energy in August 2019, which she named after her mother’s signature scent Angel perfume by Thierry Mugler.
The company, which she runs with her boyfriend Michael Hart, a police officer, donates 25% of proceeds each month to a different charity across the world in order to help victims of domestic violence.
In November, proceeds went towards Touch Link based in the Avenel section of Woodbridge, which provides outreach programs to address the problems of domestic violence in the community. The organization advocates for victims legal, social services and other needs, provide direction, referral and support towards skill developments and healthier lifestyles.
In December, proceeds are going towards Breaking the Silence Against Domestic Violence (BTSADV), a national nonprofit organization based in Colorado Springs, led by survivors-volunteers who help serve victims, survivors and families affected by domestic violence. The organization sponsors Angel Babies, children who have lost a parent due to domestic violence homicide.
Since Angel Energy’s inception, Ripoli said many charities they have helped have been through word of mouth. Proceeds have gone toward Women Aware in New Brunswick; Women Against Abuse in Philadelphia; Jersey Battered Women’s Services in Morristown; Safe+Sound in Somerset; Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Cherry Hill; Vera House in Syracuse, New York; Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence in Glastonbury; One Love in Bronxville, New York; the National Domestic Violence Hotline; Women Rising in Jersey City; 180 Turning Lives Around in Hazlet; the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence; UN Trust Fund to End Violence Against Women; Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Child Witness to Violence Project in Boston.
They also have partnered with Miss New Jersey USA Gina Mellish, who shares the cause of raising awareness of domestic violence.
For more information on Angel Energy, visit https://shopangelenergy.com/
For the National Domestic Violence Hotline, call 1-800-799-SAFE or visit www.thehotline.org/.
Contact Kathy Chang at firstname.lastname@example.org