Northeast Times

The road to recovery

Months after suffering a combined 20 stab wounds, three Father Judge student-athletes talk to the Northeast Times about the harrowing ordeal in an exclusive interview.

  • Dealing with the aftermath: Father Judge student-athletes (from left to right) Tom Bayer and cousins Joe and Jimmy Galasso were stabbed on Rowland Avenue near Lincoln High School on March 21. Police arrested seven suspects; four await trial for aggravated assault while three have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing. The victims say the attack was random. MARIA POUCHNIKOVA / TIMES PHOTOS

  • (Left to right) Bayer, Joe Galasso and Jim Galasso have done the best they can to move on with their lives following a March 21 stabbing attack that resulted in a combined 20 wounds for the trio.

To hear Tom Bay­er and his two best friends from the Fath­er Judge wrest­ling team tell it, the night of March 21 was like any oth­er.

The lives of these three seni­ors were set to change soon, yes, when high school gradu­ation would give way to col­lege and the great un­known bey­ond it; but on this even­ing, and for the few months that fol­lowed, things were sup­posed to stay the same as they had been, which, on week­end even­ings, in­cluded hanging out with best friends and fam­ily mem­bers in the neigh­bor­hood the trio had spent so much time in.

Then, it happened. A hor­rif­ic, vi­cious, bloody at­tack that forever changed the lives of Bay­er and cous­ins Joe and Jimmy Galasso.

“We were just hanging out, like any oth­er Fri­day night,” Bay­er said on a mid-May even­ing from his Wissi­nom­ing liv­ing room. “Then, tragedy struck.”

It was the tele­phone call Jim and Joanne Galasso — and every oth­er par­ent, for that mat­ter — hoped they’d nev­er re­ceive. 

“It’s a par­ent’s worst night­mare,” said Jim Galasso, Jimmy’s fath­er. “You hope you nev­er re­ceive that phone call. But guess what? We got it.”

While walk­ing on Row­land Av­en­ue near Lin­coln High School to­ward their des­tin­a­tion of Jean’s Pizza, the two Galas­sos, Bay­er, Jimmy’s young­er broth­er, An­thony, and an­oth­er friend en­gaged in a verbal clash with a lar­ger group of sim­il­arly aged teens and young adults on the oth­er side of the street. Ac­cord­ing to po­lice and me­dia re­ports, someone in the lar­ger group threw a bottle that struck one of the Judge stu­dents in the head.

A phys­ic­al al­ter­ca­tion en­sued. Some­where dur­ing the brief struggle, some kids from the oth­er group pulled out knives al­legedly on their pos­ses­sion. In the en­su­ing mel­ee, Bay­er and Jimmy and Joe Galasso were stabbed a com­bined 20 times, in­clud­ing 11 wounds for Jimmy.

“I didn’t know I had been stabbed un­til my broth­er pulled me off,” said Jimmy, whose wounds have left him con­fined first to a wheel­chair, then crutches, since that fate­ful night. “Then, I felt my leg, and he told me I had been stabbed. I didn’t know how many times at that point. You think if you get stabbed, it’s go­ing to hurt so bad, but you don’t really feel it.”

Ad­ded Joe: “When they say it cuts through you like but­ter, they’re not ly­ing.”

The chilling re­col­lec­tion came from three stu­dent-ath­letes-turned-sur­viv­ors. Joe Galasso is a former state cham­pi­on wrest­ler, and used his skills on the mat to earn a schol­ar­ship to Cor­nell Uni­versity in the fall; once an elite ath­lete, Joe can no longer run three blocks without get­ting win­ded. Bay­er, who like Jimmy Galasso played foot­ball for Judge, was wounded five times in the al­ter­ca­tion, in­clud­ing a head wound that just missed his temple and an­oth­er that came close to strik­ing his aorta. He had planned on play­ing foot­ball at a small col­lege like Moravi­an or Ly­coming, but his grades have plummeted and con­cen­tra­tion and fo­cus in the classroom aren’t what they used to be. Bay­er said he suf­fers from in­som­nia and sleep para­lys­is as a res­ult.

But per­haps the most heart­break­ing vic­tim was the eld­est of the three. Jimmy Galasso’s dream was — and still is — to play col­lege foot­ball. Un­like his cous­in and friend, who re­turned to school on the same day (April 8), Jimmy has been un­able to re­turn to school. His left leg is no longer im­mob­il­ized in a large brace, the res­ult of a stab wound that caused nerve dam­age, but he is still hobbled, un­able to move his foot on his own. There’s a 50/50 chance he’ll nev­er be able to move it again. His lung col­lapsed, but be­cause he was so ser­i­ously wounded, it took doc­tors two hours to dis­cov­er this.

“I was awake for the en­tire five hours they stitched me up,” he said. “I thought I was go­ing to die.”

Shortly after the mel­ee, the as­sail­ants scattered, leav­ing their vic­tims to bleed to death in the street. With the help of wit­nesses, po­lice found sev­en of them nearby and ar­res­ted the per­pet­rat­ors (four were charged with three counts of ag­grav­ated as­sault and re­lated of­fenses and await tri­al, while the three oth­ers have had their cases dis­missed or charges with­drawn). Bay­er and Joe Galasso said they vaguely knew one of the at­tack­ers from a brief time he at­ten­ded Judge. Oth­er­wise, it seemed com­pletely ran­dom, which is per­haps what makes it so fright­en­ing.

The mo­ments be­fore the para­med­ics ar­rived were a blur to the boys. Ditto to their par­ents, who were slowly start­ing to re­ceive in­form­a­tion that their sons were in grave danger.

“You hear about someone get­ting stabbed once and dy­ing,” the eld­er Jim Galasso said. “So the whole time I’m driv­ing to the hos­pit­al I’m think­ing, ‘I’m go­ing to get here, and my son is go­ing to be dead.’ ”

“We got in­to the car and I said, ‘Jim, he’s go­ing to be dead when we get there, so let’s just deal with it now,’ ” Joanne Galasso said. “He’s not go­ing to be alive. I really, really thought that.”

“It was chaos,” said Jane Bay­er, Tom’s moth­er. “He had called me at 9:30 that night to tell me he was OK. They were all ex­cited, get­ting ready to sur­prise their girl­friends by ask­ing them to the prom. One hour later, I get a call that Tommy’s passed out on the ground and he’s been stabbed. You don’t know what to think, oth­er than, ‘Oh my God, my son is dead.’ It felt like they took my son from me.”

From the time the boys were stabbed un­til the time they got to the hos­pit­al (the Galas­sos were taken to Aria-Tor­res­dale; Bay­er to St. Chris­toph­er’s), very little in­form­a­tion was ex­changed about their con­di­tions. Bay­er, des­pite some ser­i­ously close calls, had his five wounds stitched up and was re­leased in two days. Joe Galasso had a punc­tured lung and needed emer­gency sur­gery to stop in­tern­al bleed­ing stem­ming from his four wounds, but he was able to go home after five days. Jimmy was trans­ferred to Jef­fer­son Hos­pit­al the next day, where he spent the next two weeks be­fore his long, ar­du­ous re­cov­ery began at home. He re­cently began phys­ic­al ther­apy three times a week for his leg. 

Of course, the wounded’s thoughts im­me­di­ately shif­ted to each oth­er.

“I kept ask­ing for re­ports on Jimmy,” Joe said of his cous­in.

“I heard some hor­rible things,” Bay­er ad­ded. “I was at a dif­fer­ent hos­pit­al, so I’m hear­ing Jimmy is go­ing to have to get his leg am­pu­tated. It was just crazy stuff.”

Thank­fully, all three sur­vived the or­deal; however, like a sol­dier re­turn­ing home from war, the battle for re­cov­ery was just be­gin­ning.

“The phys­ic­al wounds, they heal,” Bay­er said. “But psy­cho­lo­gic­ally, I’m pretty messed up. I have night­mares all the time. I al­ways feel like there’s someone be­hind me. My grades have dropped, badly. My memory and fo­cus are so messed up. I hope it doesn’t spill over in­to col­lege, be­cause I have to move on and be suc­cess­ful.”

“Sleep is the worst,” Joe Galasso ad­ded. “In a big group of people now, I’m al­ways jumpy and ready to run.”

“I don’t really have any dreams, to be hon­est with you,” Jimmy Galasso said. “But my body isn’t burn­ing any en­ergy. I’m used to work­ing out and be­ing act­ive every day, so I’m al­ways rest­less. I can’t do any­thing. I feel like I’m in pris­on.”

Roughly 10 weeks after the in­cid­ent in ques­tion, the most frus­trat­ing, un­answered ques­tion re­mains:

Why?

Why were the lives of three young men so hor­rific­ally and vi­ol­ently altered? To hear the par­ents tell it, these are good, re­spect­ful boys; ad­di­tion­al sources at Judge also ex­pressed shock at the iden­tity of the three vic­tims, say­ing they were the last three any­one would ex­pect to be in a vi­ol­ent brawl, des­pite the phys­ic­al nature of the sports they played.

“What kills us the most is that these law­yers are try­ing to make it look like our kids did something wrong,” Jane Bay­er said. “You know what? These are good boys, and I’m not just say­ing it be­cause one is mine. They are re­spect­ful gen­tle­men. They open doors for ladies. They’re kind to people. They lit­er­ally would take the shirt off their back to save their friend. That’s the kind of boys these are.”

“You’re glad they’re alive,” the eld­er Jim Galasso said. “But in a second breath you get mad. Why isn’t my son walk­ing? Why isn’t Joey breath­ing right? Why can’t Tommy think right? It’s all for no reas­on.”

Joe Galasso, an ab­so­lute war­ri­or on the wrest­ling mat, has been turned in­to a per­petu­ally un­easy ball of anxi­ety.

“That’s the scar­i­est part, that someone wanted to kill us for no reas­on,” he said. “I have eyes in the back of my head now. I know what’s go­ing on around me at all times now, and I don’t trust any­one.”

Thank­fully, the sup­port of their fam­il­ies and those in the Judge com­munity has been stead­fast and un­con­di­tion­al. Bay­er said he’d nev­er be able to get through the or­deal without all the love and sup­port he’s re­ceived; Joe Galasso said he woke up with over 300 text mes­sages from well-wish­ers, and that he “gained so much re­spect for so many people I didn’t even know.”

As for what hap­pens next, that re­mains to be seen. What was sup­posed to be their fi­nal sum­mer in Philly will prob­ably stay that way only for Joe, who is still bound for Cor­nell and is con­fid­ent he will be able to hit the wrest­ling mat for the Big Red, un­en­cumbered. “I know if and when I re­cov­er,” he said, “I’ll be back on top.”

Bay­er has giv­en up on the idea of play­ing foot­ball in col­lege, and hopes to at­tend Temple in­stead. Whatever hap­pens, he knows he’s go­ing to be a spe­cial-needs stu­dent due to the fact that his brain no longer works the same fol­low­ing the at­tack.

Jimmy Galasso, however, re­fuses to give up that idea. He had planned to at­tend and play foot­ball for ASA, a ju­ni­or col­lege in Brook­lyn be­fore trans­fer­ring to a four-year school down the line. Galasso said he ex­pects the re­cov­ery to take at least a year, and there may be per­man­ent dam­age to his leg and foot. He still wants to play foot­ball some­where in col­lege; he just doesn’t know for who or when. He was hop­ing to be able to walk at gradu­ation with the rest of his class­mates this morn­ing. The trio knows that, for bet­ter or worse, this in­cid­ent will link them for the rest of their lives. 

“They’re my bud­dies and I love them,” Joe Galasso said. “I don’t know what else to say. Every time we look in the mir­ror now, we have something to look at, something to re­mind us. It kind of sucks, but I’m just happy to still be here with my bud­dies.”

“Now I guess you can con­sider us blood broth­ers,” Bay­er ad­ded with a light-hearted laugh. “I can’t be any more thank­ful for be­ing alive. All of us had a guard­i­an an­gel with us that night. I’m so thank­ful to be here.”

The love and com­pas­sion for the vic­tims and their par­ents was palp­able in­side the Bay­er liv­ing room. The raw hu­man emo­tion was so strong that it could have peeled paint off the walls. At one point dur­ing a nearly 90-minute in­ter­view, Jimmy Galasso broke down in­to un­con­trol­lable sobs. His moth­er and Jane Bay­er were quick to spring to his side, com­fort­ing him the best they could.

The scene was a pain­ful re­mind­er that no mat­ter how deep they try to bury the night of March 21 in their minds, it will al­ways be there, like a mole or birth­mark that nev­er quite faded.

“The first thing my par­ents told me was to not let this cripple me any more than it already has,” Jimmy said. “Don’t let it stop you. I might have to do some things dif­fer­ently, but I’m still al­ways the same Jim. They won’t let me get any worse; and I could be way worse than I am right now.”

“I haven’t been truly happy or had a good day since,” Joe said. “There’s al­ways something mak­ing me angry. Maybe that’s just me. I’m al­ways think­ing about something else, nev­er fo­cused. I took a phys­ics test the oth­er day, and … blank. I couldn’t re­mem­ber any­thing. I guess you’ve got to just keep on keep­ing on, and hope for the best. Say your pray­ers, and hope they’re answered. My faith is stronger now.”

“What this boy has been through…” Joanne Galasso began. “He has a lot of hope and he’s not a quit­ter. The way I feel now, I couldn’t be prouder.”

Oth­er par­ents shared sim­il­ar sen­ti­ments.

“I’m def­in­itely proud of him,” said Tom Bay­er Sr., Tom’s dad. “That’s my little buddy. He sur­prises me every day, al­ways look­ing to help oth­ers. I don’t like to see him go through something like this, be­cause life’s hard enough as it is.”

“I know Joey, and he won’t let this define him,” said Ren­ee Galasso, Joe’s mom. “Of course I’m angry about everything. For all of the kids.”

As far as the at­tack­ers go, there are mixed thoughts.

“One of the hard­est things is go­ing to court and be­ing cross-ex­amined,” the young­er Bay­er said. “You get vivid de­tail when all you want to do is for­get. I don’t know how any­one can de­fend such a hein­ous crime.”

“These kids, they didn’t even enter Jimmy’s mind,” the eld­er Jim Galasso said of his son’s at­tack­ers. “He couldn’t care less about them. He’s not hold­ing a grudge against them. He’s not go­ing to let what those kids did slow him down.”

“There are con­sequences for your ac­tions, and these kids need to be made aware of that,” the eld­er Bay­er said. “Be­cause our chil­dren could have died. They could have wrecked all our lives.”

Be­fore they scattered away in­to the night, Joanne Galasso had one more thing she wanted to share. She showed a re­port­er the home screen of her cell phone, which car­ried a mes­sage she said she is forced to read to her­self mul­tiple times daily:

Dear God: Today I woke up. I am healthy. I am alive. Thank you.”

“Per­son­ally, this is what he gives me,” she said. “I worry. They were just a hair away from calam­ity. Whatever God’s plan for him is, and I be­lieve he does have one. Jim knows that. We’re just wait­ing on the Lord. I don’t really know what else to say.” ••

You can reach at emorrone@bsmphilly.com.

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