Maria Pettolina was nervous when she took the stand to testify on national television about her crime scene findings after the massacre in Aurora, Colorado. When she looked into the courtroom, though, she was fortified by a smiling face – Sandy Phillips was sending encouragement, and Maria has never forgotten.
Later, she had the opportunity to talk with Lonnie and Sandy. She remembers her eyes brimming with tears when Sandy said she had done a great job, and that her testimony had made them proud. It was the first time Maria had ever met a victim’s family. They began getting together for meals, leading to what has become a lasting and very special relationship.
In 2012, Maria had only been a CSI for three years, and in Colorado for six months. Now, she’s Dr. Maria Pettolina, and educates other CSIs about best practices. But the memories are still fresh – in fact, unforgettable. She and Nick Carroll, who worked the scene with her, spent nine days onsite and the balance of the month packaging evidence. It was a singularly affecting case. She considers her colleagues who worked with her among her best friends today. Of the people who died, Maria says, “It could have been my sister. My niece.” And horrifically, “there was not a single safe place.” Maria has written about the post-traumatic stress that can accompany her work. One of her recent publications: Even CSI’s are Allowed to Have Feelings.
Maria was so moved by the Phillips that she gave them the medals she received for her work in Aurora, and she has since volunteered steadfastly with Survivors Empowered. “Their hearts were just like noone’s I had ever met,” she said. “They are really special people, super-inspiring.” One of her first questions to them after the trial was over: “How can I help?” Maria has been fundraising and pitching in ever since. Volunteers – and contributions – are always welcome at Survivors Empowered. As for Dr. Maria Pettolina, no words can fully express the gratitude the Phillips feel for all her efforts and kindnesses.