By Terry Rogers
On Saturday, March 21, 2015, the City of Milford sponsored the 32nd Annual Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast honoring Mayor Bryan Shupe. The breakfast is an annual event that began in the City of Seattle in 1934. The program began with welcoming remarks from Reverend Joseph Cassey, President of the Milford Senior Center and an opening prayer by Reverend Richard Portalatin. Officer Timothy Maloney of the Milford Police Department led the group in the Pledge of Allegiance and Reverend Joel Andrus sang “You Raise Me Up” before Cantor, George Mason shared “Sim Shalom.”
After breakfast served by the Milford Senior Center, Reverend Royce Andrus read from the scripture before introducing the guest speaker, Debra Puglisi Sharp, who was the victim of a brutal, violent crime in 1998. Ms. Sharp is the author of the book, “Shattered: Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart” which she co-wrote with another crime victim.
On April 20, 1998, Ms. Sharp was outside in her yard, planting rose bushes she had recently been given. What she did not know was that Donald Flagg, a crack cocaine addict and employee at the Chrysler plant in New Castle County, had seen her working in the garden as he rode past. Flagg, who was high at the time, parked around the corner from her home and entered through an unlocked door, lying in wait for Ms. Sharp to come inside.
“It was 2 o’clock in the afternoon,” Ms. Sharp said. “Why would I lock my doors? Why would I set the house alarm while I was working in the garden?” She said her husband, Anthony “Nino” Puglisi, arrived home from his job as a pre-planner at a funeral home and was pleased to see that she was planting the bushes as she was not a gardener. Ms. Sharp said she asked him to let her know when it was 3:45 so she could come in and call her boss since she was on call for her job with Delaware Hospice that evening.
When he did not come out to tell her, Ms. Sharp said she was not immediately concerned, thinking that he had simply forgotten. She went into the house, entering the kitchen, where she was immediately bludgeoned, knocking her glasses off so she could not see her attacker. He asked her for money and she assumed she was being robbed as she could hear him rummaging through her purse and drawers. Her attacker then dragged her down the basement stairs where he tied her up and raped her before taking her back upstairs. He placed her in the foyer and covered her with a blanket before loading her in the trunk of his car, taking her to his home in Bear.
For the next four days, Flagg sexually assaulted her, handcuffing and binding her wrists to the point they became infected. While she was bound, she learned her husband was dead through a radio report. Flagg had surprised him in the dining room and shot Mr. Puglisi between the eyes, killing him instantly, then hiding his body so his wife would not see it when she entered the house. Flagg brought her a paper where she learned she was a suspect in her husband’s murder. Flagg allowed her to watch news reports where she saw her brother, a law enforcement officer, and her father, who she said “had aged ten years”, talking about her in the past tense as they believed she was dead.
On the Friday after her abduction, when her captor left for work at the Chrysler plant, Ms. Sharp was able to get to a phone and call 911. Within minutes, police were there, breaking down the door to rescue her. Ms. Sharp said that she wanted to tell a brief version of her story, although what happened to her was not what she was doing at the prayer breakfast, but more about turning tragedy into triumph.
“I was very compliant with my captor,” Ms. Sharp said. “I made him like me to the point that when police took him down at the Chrysler plant, he asked the police how I was. My hands were injured and I had to ask him to wash my hair for me when he let me take a shower. I cannot tell you how dehumanizing it was to have the murderer of my husband wash my hair and then have to put on his clothes.” Ms. Sharp says that most victims want to tell their story and that when they cannot, it festers like an open wound. She said that every time she speaks, she has one or two people who tell her their own victimization story, some of whom have never spoken about it before.
Ms. Sharp said that the one thing she wants to see is more understanding of post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. She said it is highly misunderstood and that it never goes away. Even after almost 17 years, she still has triggers that will take her back to what happened in April 1998. Today, she works with Victim Voices Heard, an organization that focuses on helping victims deal with PTSD and with inmates to show how their crimes have affected their victims and families. Ms. Sharp said that she is very worried about soldiers coming home from war and children who no longer feel safe in places they should, like the mall, theaters or school. She said after being attacked in her home, she knows how difficult it is to live with constant fear in a place where you should feel safe.
Ms. Sharp has remarried and now lives in Lewes where she and her husband operate a small tavern in Rehoboth. She travels the country offering tips on dealing with PTSD and providing assistance to victims.