Part one of a two-part series
UPPER PROVIDENCE — Julianne Siller was two weeks away from her high school graduation and a summer filled with time at the beach with friends and family when she was brutally murdered on May 25, 2013 in Palmer Park by a friend.
Tristan Brian Arthur Stahley, 17, of Skippack, allegedly stabbed Siller multiple times before hiding her body in the woods near the trail. An autopsy performed by the Montgomery County Coroner’s Office concluded that the 17-year-old died from multiple stab wounds, including a cut across her throat.
“It was such a horrific crime,” said Julianne’s mother, Jennifer Siller.
In police reports and court documents, Stahley has been identified as someone who was dating Julianne. But to the Sillers, he was nothing more than another friend of Julianne’s.
“I think it was wishful thinking on his part that it was a girlfriend-boyfriend relationship,” Siller said about her daughter’s connection with Stahley. “She had circles of friends and within those circles were boys – he happened to be in a circle of friends.
“Maybe he’s never had that sort of relationship with a girl before. Julianne had a senior prom and he didn’t ask her. She went with girlfriends because he never stepped up to ask her.”
At a time when they hoped to be living new experiences with their daughter, Julianne’s family now can only reflect on the time they spent with her – sharing memories and reliving moments they had with their daughter as a way to preserve her memory.
Stahley was charged with first- and third-degree murder and possession of an instrument of crime and is in jail awaiting trial, which is scheduled for this spring.
The Sillers’ house sits at the top of a large cul-de-sac at the heart of a neighborhood in Upper Providence. A poster-size picture of Julianne rests against the brick fireplace. Her long blonde hair, inviting smile and bright eyes reflect what her family describes as kindness fondly remembered. It also reflects the hope of a girl who was looking forward to starting college at Penn State — Altoona.
“She made a person’s day more sunshiny than when they woke up,” said Siller family friend and spokesperson Lisa Poelck. “She was gregarious, giving, and loving.”
Nine months after her death, the Sillers are raising money to start a scholarship fund for seniors at Spring-Ford Area High School to use for college or vocational training and the family considers the fund raiser a way to pay it forward, according to Poelck.
On March 30, her family will host the inaugural Julianne’s Journey 5K Run and Walk fund raiser at the high school.
“People were really enthusiastic about contributing to the fund,” Jennifer Siller said. “(At the funeral) in lieu of flowers, we asked people to donate to the SPCA. But people wanted to keep on giving and that is how we came up with the scholarship fund.”
The scholarship in honor of Julianne will be presented with other scholarships at the high school on May 29 during Senior Night, said Spring-Ford principal Pat Nugent.
“There are between 60 and 70 scholarships given out that night, 20 of which are memorial scholarships,” Nugent said.
He said the family is able to determine the details of the scholarship but typically scholarships range between $200 and $1,000.
For her family, the scholarship is one way Julianne’s kindness will continue on.
“She was a ‘help anybody person,’” Poleck said.
While sitting around the dining room table in their home, Gary and Jennifer Siller both wore Julianne’s favorite color — dark purple — and talked about ways their daughter’s voice can still be heard and her compassionate spirit seen in years to come.
“The family appreciates the support we’ve gotten,” her mother said. “It helps us keep her name out there. The community support has been incredible, amazing. People want to do something.”
The Sillers hope the tragic death of their daughter will help fuel the conversation about dating and domestic violence and healthy relationships going forward.
“This is a great platform to get the word out about healthy relationships because it doesn’t have to be a boyfriend-girlfriend relationship (that turns violent) it can be a casual relationship,” Jennifer Siller said.
In November of last year Poelck and Pauline McGibbon, an advocate at the Montgomery County Women’s Center, had a booth at Perkiomen Valley High School to talk about dating violence.
The positive reception the booth received signaled to Poelck there is a need for education in schools about what defines a healthy relationship.
“(Dating violence) is in fact an epidemic that is in every economic background,” Poelck said. “And while we think we understand what a healthy relationship is, I don’t think the average person does.”
And for the Sillers, their daughter became a victim of dating violence while she was trying to help a friend.
“This was a relationship where (Julianne) reached out to him and maybe she got in over her head,” Jennifer Siller said. “(Teenagers) think they know how to handle situations but it is important to let them know there are resources out there.”
Despite the possibility of Julianne’s voice being used for change, her family is still without their daughter — a vibrant girl looking toward her future.
In September 2013, a motorcycle ride for Julianne raised approximately $25,000. The money was used to design and construct three memorials for the slain teenager.
One, in the park where she died, will have a plaque engraved with a quote that the family chose to reflect their memory of Julianne:
“A life that touches others goes on forever.”