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Kelli Cutinella

The McMorris family leads a hike Sept. 30 through Manorville, finishing the trek their son Andrew started a year earlier.Photo by Kyle Barr

Nobody should have had to go through what the McMorris family did.

Yet, there are very few families that could have turned around and offered up a chance of hope, and an effort to give back.

John and Alisa McMorris at the Dec. 15 race. Photo by Kyle Barr

Alisa and John McMorris were there in the hospital with their 12-year-old son, Andrew, as he passed from injuries received by an alleged drunk driver while on a hike with his Boy Scout troop in 2018. The family’s names have appeared in the news every week as of late, as the trial against the driver progressed.

Yet their names have also appeared in the news for other reasons. The family has started a foundation in the name of Andrew which has raised money for the local school district and drunk driving advocacy groups. They have shown staunch support for nonprofit advocacy groups Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Students Against Destructive Decisions.

Through fundraisers and other community efforts, the Andrew McMorris Foundation has raised thousands for Boy Scouts of America, their own Troop 161, the school district, along with MADD and other organizations that look to stem the tide of drunk driving. This year, Alisa stood next to U.S. Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) in supporting bills to crack down on drunk and impaired driving, and the parents stood alongside MADD arguing to lower the blood alcohol limit for drunk drivers from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent.

The Shoreham-Wading River community has become so known to tragedy, but for those who live in the two interconnected hamlets, mourning has become an act of compassion and activism. As was the case of the Cutinella family, whose son Thomas died after another player struck his head during a football game, and for the family of Melissa Marchese, an 18-year-old Shoreham resident who died in a car crash earlier this year. Tom and Kelli Cutinella were honored by TBR News Media as People of the Year in 2017 for the work with the foundation named after Thomas.

“They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”

– Kelli Cutinella

Kelli Cutinella said she and her husband had known Alisa and John for years, but they had reached out to the McMorris family after their loss, looking to offer any help they may have needed. Kelli soon came to see their “strength and courage,” witnessing the McMorris clan create their own foundation much in the same way the Cutinellas created theirs. She added that after such a loss, one never truly gets closure, but it lets one move in another direction — toward meaningful change.

“When you lose your child, you feel very alone,” Kelli said. “They sing Andrew’s song with their advocacy — make an impact and change the world as if he were here today.”

Last year, the McMorris foundation granted two scholarships worth $750 each to graduating SWR high school students in Andrew’s honor.

Superintendent Gerard Poole and SWR school board president, Michael Lewis, said the McMorris family has long been active in the district for years, with Alisa having been a PTA leader and member of the legislative and bond committees. Poole said she had been instrumental in setting up a trip for students to Albany to advocate. Her advocacy led to the resurrection of a SADD club as well.

“The McMorris family has been incredibly active, supporting student programs,” Poole said. Alisa’s “been just a great part of the school community — involved in every aspect.”

John McMorris is an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 161, where Andrew had been an active and enthusiastic member. Jane Sherman, the committee chair of Troop 161, called the McMorrises one of the strongest couples she knows for taking their personal tragedy and then “looking out for the community.”

She said the McMorris foundation has already had several successful fundraising events, both from the community and internally, including a gala in September. The gala and other events have raised money for a new cabin in the Baiting Hollow Scout Camp named McMorris Lodge in honor of Andrew. The outside of the cabin is nearly fully complete, and most of the work is continuing on the inside of the shell.

“They’ve had such vision, and every day they’re knocking down goalposts,”
Sherman said.

But this is only the beginning, the Troop 161 committee chair said. As fundraising continues, and as the foundation builds more support, there are plans to produce scholarship for not just SWR, but the Riverhead and Miller Place school districts as well. John McMorris works as a guidance counselor at Miller Place.

“Scholarships for science, aviation, music, everything that Andrew loved,” Sherman said. “They’re just tremendous, not just by themselves,

The Shoreham-Wading River community and football team mourned the death of teammate Thoams Cutinella. File photo by Bill Landon

By Kevin Redding

Frank and Kelli Cutinella have always been this way. Family members and close friends say the Shoreham-Wading River couple, who were married in 1996 and together raised four kids, have always given back, helped others and been there when  needed the most.

“You can’t meet a more solid person than Frankie,” said Kenneth Michaels, Frank Cutinella’s childhood friend and fellow officer within the Suffolk County Police Department. “He’s a model. He’s someone you want to emulate. I’ve never met anybody like him in my life.”

Mount Sinai’s Theresa Biegert said her sister Kelli Cutinella helps no matter who needs it.

Thomas Cutinella hoped to donate his organs. File photo

“She’s so kind and loving and generous, and goes out of her way for everybody — her family, friends and members of the community,” she said.

So after tragedy struck the Cutinellas Oct. 1, 2014, they didn’t buckle, they didn’t wallow. The reach of their generosity only got bigger and stronger. Their mission in life began.

It’s been more than three years since their oldest son, Thomas Cutinella, died at age 16 from a helmet-to-helmet collision with another player during a Shoreham-Wading River football game. Thomas, a star Wildcat and junior at the time of the accident, had aspirations of serving his country and, like his parents, was always looking to lend a hand, or more.

When he was rushed to Huntington Hospital, and after doctors there told the Cutinellas what no parent should ever hear, they honored a wish their son made on his birthday that year to donate his organs to others. His heart, pancreas, kidneys, liver, tissue and skin all went to those in need.

“When Thomas went to get his driver’s permit that year, they asked if he wanted to be a donor even though he wasn’t old enough to register at the time,” said Maria Johnson, Kelli’s mother. “He was like, ‘Yes! What do you mean? Of course I want to be a donor!’ Thomas was a very giving boy. He had to get that from somebody, and he got it from his parents.”

Since his death, mother and father have taken it upon themselves to never stop honoring Thomas’ memory. And in signature Cutinella fashion, they’re bettering the lives of everybody around them in the process.

Frank and Kelli Cutinella have spoken in front of Suffolk County officials, athletic directors and football coaches from across the state about bringing much-needed changes to the sport that took their son’s life, and the culture surrounding it. Having seen firsthand the illegal hit Thomas took when an opposing player rammed the crown of their helmet into the side of Cutinella’s, and the brief celebration among the players and crowd that followed, Frank Cutinella became determined to make the game safer and reduce the unnecessary dangers encouraged on the field.

A former high school football player himself, Frank Cutinella presented his case to save the lives of young athletes to Section XI members, who, in the fall of 2016, began to implement the Tommy Tough Football Safety Standards across the county. In July of this year, Tommy Tough was adopted at the state level, by the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. Frank’s next goal is to take it to the  national stage.

Focused on limiting the risk of injury, caused by certain ways of tackling and leading with the helmet, the new safety measures are read before each game by on-field officials and stricter penalties are enforced when it comes to illegal contacts and hits. Educational programs on safety and proper helmet techniques are offered to coaches.

“Frank wanted to make a difference to the game and not let Tommy’s death go unnoticed,” said Tom Combs, executive director and former football chair of Section XI. “These standards make the game safer, bring an awareness to what is an illegal hit and what isn’t, what’s acceptable on the field and what isn’t. It’s helping coaches and players and officials get on the same page and understand that this game can be as safe as possible if we follow certain standards. Frank’s amazing. I don’t think I could’ve found the strength to do what he’s done.”

Frank and Kelli Cutinella sit on Wading River Elementary Schools new `buddy bench,` which was donated by nonprofit Kaits Angels, which was created in memory of Mattitucks Kaitlyn Doorhy. Photo by Kevin Redding

Kelli Cutinella has shared Thomas’ story, and advocated for the lowering of the organ donation registration age across the state, speaking at local school districts like Harborfields and East Islip, colleges like Hofstra and Stony Brook University, and in Albany to support the passing of a law permitting 16- and 17-year-olds to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry, which was rolled out in February 2017. She is also a frequent contributor at events put on by LiveOnNY, an organ donation network, and a nonprofit called Long Island TRIO, standing for Transplant Recipients International Organization.

Dave Rodgers, a leader at Long Island TRIO, said he had been following Thomas’ story since the day his death was reported, and was honored to have his mom join his cause. Within the nonprofit, Kelli Cutinella speaks to high school and college students about what organ donation and transplantation means from a parental perspective.

“It’s truly amazing what she’s able to do,” Rodgers said. “She takes it full circle from raising her son and what he and his loss meant to her, to the transplantation process of another person getting that life and then being in contact with all the recipients of Thomas’ organs. Her story is quite compelling.”

Not only is Kelli Cutinella friends with Thomas’ heart recipient, she has been running alongside her at the Tunnel to Towers 5K Run & Walk in New York City since 2015.

Karen Hill, a 25-year-old Washington, D.C., native, received Thomas’ heart three days after his death, while she was a student at Fordham University. When she was 11, Hill was diagnosed with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease, and had been regulated with medication until she turned 21 and got on a waiting list for a transplant.

“It’s crazy because when I found out I needed a transplant, the first thing I wondered was, ‘Whose heart am I doing to get?’” Hill said. “There is no word in the dictionary that described just how fortunate I was to be able to receive the heart of such a well-loved person. I feel like since the transplant and meeting the Cutinellas, I’ve become a better person in my own life.”

Hill first met the Cutinellas in May 2015, along with the recipient of Thomas’ kidney and pancreas. She has been in frequent communication ever since and has found a real kinship with Thomas’ mother.

“Kelli is almost in a way like a second mom,” Hill said. “She has such a wonderful and warm personality. She and Frank both still have the most positive spirits and are great people to be around.”

Through The Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation, the parents are also extremely hands-on and charitable within their son’s school district, granting a special scholarship in Thomas’ name — more than $14,000 in 2016 — to students of Shoreham-Wading River and beyond who exhibit characteristics of kindness, modesty and selflessness. The couple oversaw the building of the new memorial football field, and Frank Cutinella is spearheading the construction of a concession stand and bathroom on the property. Thomas was honored in the form of a buddy bench installed at Wading River Elementary School. At the high school, alongside the football field, a bust was created along with a special seating area by local Eagle Scout Thomas Leda.

Kelli Cutinella, right, and Karen Hill, left, after Hill received Cutinella’s son Thomas’ heart through a donation following his death. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

“It’s overwhelming for them, but they want to give back to the community because the community gave back to them in their time in need,” Michaels said. “Thomas loved that school and that’s where they felt they could truly carry on his memory. The [Cutinellas] were dealt a bad hand, but they’ve turned that bad hand into a royal flush.”

Biegert agreed.

“Kelli and Frank didn’t crawl in a hole and cry about this,” she said. “They opened their arms and thought of what they could do to make it better and make a difference.”

Kenny Gray, a family friend, said the Cutinellas encompass the small-town feeling of Shoreham-Wading River with their strong family values and love of community.

“I know that they will never fully recover from this and it continues to be a struggle for them, but they’re strong and keep life normal for the other three kids,” Gray said. “This tragedy has led Frank and Kelli to do even more for community and friends.”

Kevin Cutinella, 18, their second oldest child who also played on the high school football and lacrosse team and currently attends the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said he’s most proud and admiring of his parents’ strength.

“I love that they haven’t changed at all — they stayed just as stable and strong as a rock,” he said. “It’s just what they’ve always been: strong, focused and helpful. It’s definitely rubbed off on us all.”

By Kevin Redding

Since the untimely passing of Tom Cutinella in October 2014, the memory of Shoreham’s beloved student-athlete has lived on within the district, from the dedication of the high school’s athletic field in his name to a life-size bust and memorial wall close to it.

But perhaps no remembrance captures the kindhearted spirit of the fallen football player quite like the newly built “buddy bench,” to be installed on the playground at Wading River Elementary School.

“Character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking.”

—Kelli Cutinella

Adorned with the inscription “Be A Friend Make A Friend” underneath the dedication “In Loving Memory of Thomas Cutinella,” the bench serves to eliminate loneliness and promote friendship among children — when those feeling alone or bullied sit on the bench, other students are encouraged to take a seat next to them and ask if they want to be friends.

It was donated in Cutinella’s honor by Kait’s Angels, a North Fork-based non-profit started just weeks after Mattituck resident Kaitlyn Doorhy, a 20-year-old college student at Sacred Heart University, was struck and killed by a car in August 2014.

So far, the organization has installed more than 10 benches in her memory at every elementary school on the North Fork, including Cutchogue East and Greenport, as well as a senior center in Southold. This is the first one built in someone else’s name.

“This bench defines what Tom stood for,” Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s mother, told students, administrators and parents packed into the elementary school’s gym for the bench’s ribbon-cutting ceremony June 16. Speaking directly to the students, she said, “character is what sets us aside from one another. This ‘buddy bench’ will inspire you all even more to be like Thomas and Kaitlyn … to do the right thing, even when no one is looking … have that character that sets you aside from everyone and always let your peers know they have a friend and are never alone.”

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here. Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

—Darla Doorhy

It was during his years at the elementary school that Cutinella started being recognized as someone special, who took the school’s teachings about trustworthiness, respect and caring to heart.

He was a kind, selfless kid who was quick to help others and make friends with anyone he crossed paths with, no matter who they were.

“[Tom] was a friend to everyone, and I mean everyone,” said Cutinella, who was joined at the event by her husband, Frank, and their children. “He was a natural helper and a best buddy.”

Cutinella’s life was was tragically cut short nearly three years ago following a head-on collision with an opposing player on a football field during a high school game.

Darla Doorhy, Kaitlin’s mother, reached out to Kelli Cutinella around Christmas time to discuss collaborating on the dedication, which took about six months to come to fruition. The bench was purchased by Kait’s Angels from Belson Outdoors in Illinois.

She said Tom and her daughter — who had been a Girl Scout ambassador, National Honor Society member, multi-sport athlete, musician and organizer for countless fundraising efforts — were very similar in their generosity towards others, right down to being registered organ donors.

“Their legacy has come together for a special reason and Kaitlin and Thomas will always be remembered here,” Doorhy said. “Even though they’re not here in the flesh, their spirits live on.”

“The truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’

—Louis Parrinello

Cutinella agreed there’s a special connection between their children, and said she was humbled to be approached by Doorhy and Kait’s Angels.

“Certainly there’s a commonality of the tragedies,” President of Kait’s Angels, William Araneo, said. “Although physically there will always be an empty chair, her presence remains strong … she continues to find ways to bring us together and this is one example of that. And just like Tom, Kaitlin reserved a place in her heart for those who may not have been popular, and persevered to make friends with those who might be developmentally challenged.”

Wading River Elementary School Principal Louis Parrinello called on a few students from each grade, starting with second, to place notes they wrote earlier in the day into a large basket next to the bench.

Scribbled on the notes were ways in which a student could make friends with another; one student wrote, “I can make a friend by playing with them,” while another student’s note said, “I can make a friend by talking to them about what they like.”

A small group of students who knew Cutinella personally were called up to cut the ribbon and be the first to sit on the bench.

“We learn about people in history, like Abraham Lincoln and Betsy Ross … people who have transformed the world,” Parrinello said to the room of students, “but the truth is that every one of you has the power to transform the world in the decisions you make. If you see anyone sitting on that bench, that means you go up and ask, ‘Hey, can you come and play with me?’ It’s about opening up and starting something new.”

Donate Life supporters during a rally. File photo

By Kevin Redding

As of Feb. 14, National Organ Donor Day, a new state law rolled out by Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) permits 16- and 17-year-olds to enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry when they apply for a driver’s license, learner’s permit or nondriver ID, potentially growing enrollments in New York by thousands.

Sponsored by State Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Kemp Hannon (R-Garden City), the legislation’s altered minimum age to sign up as an organ donor, which had previously been 18, serves as a big step for New York, which currently ranks 50th out of all 50 states when it comes to the percentage of residents enrolled to be organ donors.

Kidney recipient Tom D’Antonio and Brookhaven
Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner. Photo from Councilwoman Bonner

At just 28 percent, New York State is “way at the bottom of the pack” when it comes to enrollment, according to Flanagan, a strong advocate for organ donations because of his late friend, Assemblyman James Conte (R-Huntington Station), who was the recipient of two kidney transplants before losing a battle with cancer in 2012.

“[New York] has been a leader in many ways on a wide variety of issues and we should be the premiere state in terms of organ donation,” Flanagan said. “I just want to promote organ donation, and promote awareness. There are thousands and thousands of people who are waiting for transplants here in the state, kidney being the primary one. We don’t have enough people signing up, and it’s taken too long to [get here] but I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

The senator said Conte is the reason he’s a donor, and after his death, he realized he could use his own political platform to advocate for this cause and encourage others to get involved.

Like Flanagan, Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) is passionate about organ donation and takes every opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of becoming a donor when speaking publicly, regardless of the event.

“I could be at a civic event talking about town improvement projects or town issues, and I always use it as a soapbox to talk about organ donation,” Bonner said. “Roughly 125,000 people in the United States are waiting for a kidney and there are 350 million people in the United States, seemingly with healthy kidneys. If everybody who could donate, donated one, we wouldn’t have people waiting for a kidney anymore and lives can be saved.”

Bonner said that under the new law, 16- and 17-year-olds can make donations upon their death, and it includes safeguards where their parents or legal guardians have the option to rescind the decision if the minor dies before 18.

“It not only ups the amount of eligible organ donors there are to sign up and save lives, but also starts a conversation at an earlier age about its importance.”

— Megan Fackler

“Teenagers are very passionate about so many issues and I think this legislation was made because they’re employing every toy in the toolbox, knowing the state is dead last,” she said.

The councilwoman knows a thing or two about saving lives this way.

It was last April when Bonner donated her kidney to her childhood friend Tom D’Antonio, who had been diagnosed with diabetes at a young age, had suffered multiple health issues over the years and desperately needed a transplant.

“I said ‘I’ll do it, we’re the same blood type,’ and I donated blood to him when he got his first kidney transplant,” Bonner recalled.

D’Antonio was more than grateful for the donation his longtime friend made.

“I bounced back like a rockstar and I feel great, I have more energy and determination,” D’Antonio said, reflecting on the experience. “It’s my belief that there is something within a human being that takes that step and makes that heroic move to save a life; it moves me beyond a place I can easily describe. Not only did [Jane] save my life but she enriched the lives of those close to me, [like my wife].”

But D’Antonio is not a big fan of the new law, calling it “hugely irresponsible” and a “grossly inadequate response” to appease a need for more donors. 

“Sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds have enough trouble making a decision about what classes to take as seniors, their minds are still developing, and I’m appalled that this is the state’s answer,” he said. “What the state should do instead is put some money and effort into organ donor awareness and make it part of the teaching curriculum in high school.”

Karen Hill, the recipient of Tom Cutinella’s heart, and his mother Kelli Cutinella. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

Alternatively, Kelli Cutinella, whose son Tom died October 2014 following a head-on collision during a high school football game, spoke in Albany to help get the law passed, and said she’s glad to see it in effect.

Tom, who wanted to register when he was 16 at the DMV but was ultimately not allowed at the time, donated all vital organs, such as his heart, kidneys, liver, pancreas, bones and skin.

“He was a giver in life and would do anything for anybody, and it didn’t surprise me that he wanted to register at 16, it was just in his nature,” Cutinella said.

The mother, who has an ongoing relationship with Tom’s heart recipient and pancreas and kidney recipient, was recently notified by a New York Burn Center that a 30-year-old man from Brooklyn had received Tom’s skin after suffering severe burns in a house fire.

“Tom lives on now,” Cutinella said. “He’s not here in the physical sense, but he is with the recipients as they go on to live wonderful, fulfilling lives.”

According to Megan Fackler of LiveOnNY, a federally designated organ procurement organization, the new law is exciting.

“It not only ups the amount of eligible organ donors there are to sign up and save lives, but also starts a conversation at an earlier age about its importance,” Fackler said. “Donor family and recipient meetings have been the most touching. There are lots of things 16- and 17-year-olds can’t do, like rent a car, get a tattoo, vote, join the army, but they can save lives.”

Residents can visit the New York State Health Department’s website at www.health.ny.gov/donatelife to get more information about organ donation in New York State, including how to register as a donor.

Over the summer, Shoreham-Wading River graduate and singer-songwriter Gina Mingoia stepped into her father’s home studio in their garage to fulfill a promise she made to her late friend and classmate Tom Cutinella, a 16-year-old student who died in October 2014 following a head-on collision during a football game.

Months before his death, when they were both entering 11th grade, Cutinella told Mingoia, who was then in the process of auditioning for NBC’s “The Voice,” that if she ever became famous, she had to write a song about him.

More than two years later, it’s the 18-year-old singer’s heartfelt and moving “I Wish (Tom’s Song),” released last week on iTunes, Spotify and YouTube with a music video that’s reached more than 8,000 views, about Cutinella, their long friendship and the impact of his loss, that has catapulted her into the local spotlight.

Gina Mingoia and Tom Cutinella in eighth grade. Photo from Gina Mingoia

Both the song, which recently hit the airwaves on 101.7 “The Beach,” and its video, which shows Mingoia reflecting on her friend in several settings including the high school’s recently-dedicated Thomas Cutinella Memorial Field, have served as sources of healing for those closest to Cutinella, especially Mingoia herself.

“I Wish” was the first song she wrote after the fatal accident, between December 2014 and January 2015, after taking some time away from her passion in the midst of mourning.

Even though she had been trying to write songs in the aftermath that weren’t about the loss, she couldn’t. Finally, she sat down and the song came pouring out in as little as 15 minutes. “I wish I got to say goodbye,” sings Mingoia in the bridge. “To see his smile one more time.”

“The words came quickly,” Mingoia said. “I played the guitar and wrote it. I didn’t even show my dad for a while after … I just kind of kept it to myself.”

Her father Sal, a Suffolk County police officer and local musician who served as producer and played all the instruments on “I Wish,” said the song helped his daughter get through her devastation.

“[Gina] had a strange reaction to the death; all of her friends were collapsing and hitting the ground and screaming and crying, but she almost had no reaction,” Sal Mingoia said. “She just walked around in a daze — so maybe the song is what brought her out of it and brought her back to normal. She put all her feelings into it and it just came out.”

“To know that [Gina Mingoia] respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it.”

—Kelli Cutinella

After recording “I Wish” in the middle of summer, Mingoia said her father was adamant about filming a video for the song and showing it to the world, but she knew she couldn’t do that without the approval of the Cutinella family. Sal and Gina Mingoia have performed together at the Thomas Cutinella Golf Tournament, a fundraising event started by Frank and Kelli Cutinella, Tom’s parents, and it was there, in October 2016, that Mingoia shared the song with them.

“I thought they were going to say no,” she said. “I thought it was going to be too invasive, but they loved it and pushed for it. Once it was done, Mrs. Cutinella just got right up and hugged me, for like five minutes, and said in my ear that he is watching and that he loved it. That made me cry.”

Kelli Cutinella, who thinks Mingoia is “an amazing artist with a beautiful voice,” was especially moved. As it’s their mission in life to keep her son’s memory alive and his legacy strong, she and her husband felt honored.

“She did not have to write this song about [Tom] … she wrote it from her heart and that speaks volumes to us,” Cutinella said. “To know that she respected and loved [Tom] so much that she would write about him was amazing. We were just so humbled that she did it, and as soon as she shared it with us, we shared it with others.”

Thomas Cutinella died following a head-on collision on the football field in 2014. Photo from Kelli Cutinella

For the video, shot in November, Sal Mingoia enlisted the help of his friend Frank Lombardi, a police helicopter pilot and skilled cameraman whose expertise helped bring the message of the song to life.

The emotional video features the singer, wearing a hat that bears Cutinella’s jersey number “54” throughout, looking at her late friend’s “in loving memory” page in the yearbook, clippings from newspaper articles following his passing, and a local barber shop adorned with his name and number.

In a shot in the beginning of the video, Mingoia shows a tattoo on her bicep that reads “I love you” in Cutinella’s handwriting, taken from a little note, featured at the end of the video, he gave to her in health class.

She said she and Cutinella, upon meeting the summer before sixth grade, were immediate friends, were always in the same science and math honors classes, and even formed an “apocalyptic preparation squad” through their love of AMC’s “The Walking Dead.”

“There was not a single person in the world who knew him and didn’t love him,” Mingoia said. “He was just a genuinely good person in every way.”

She thinks it’s incredible that even people who don’t know her, only knowing Cutinella, are sharing the video, a majority of whom have sent her messages sharing their favorite memories of the former Wildcats athlete.

“They’re incredible to read,” she said. “I just want people who loved Tom and need a way to remember him to use [the video]. I think our community, in particular, and all of Long Island can relate to it.”