Fioccos settle at $425,000, mystery remains unsolved

John Fiocco Jr. (AP Photo)

Six-and-a-half years later, the mystery remains unsolved. It is still unknown what exactly happened to freshman John Fiocco Jr. when he disappeared from Wolfe Hall in March 2006.

One month after he went missing, Fiocco’s body was discovered in a landfill in nearby Bucks County, Pa.

The story, which has basically become an urban legend on campus, has perhaps reached as much of a conclusion as it ever will.

After four years of litigation, the civil lawsuit filed by the Fiocco family against the College and the state of N.J. reached a $425,000 settlement in March, according to a legal release provided by the Office of the Attorney General.

Looking back

Drawing, listening to Green Day and watching professional wrestling were among Fiocco’s favorite hobbies.

The 19-year-old graphic design major had a “total South Jersey accent” and was “handsome as hell,” according to former floormate Myles Ma, ’09.

Fiocco even resembled George Michael from Wham! — or at least Ma thought so.

Ma saw Fiocco hours before he disappeared on March 25, 2006. Although Fiocco had been drinking, his mood was “nothing disastrous,” Ma said.

As a freshman, Ma resided on Wolfe 4 with Fiocco and described him as “probably the most chill guy on the floor.”

The two got to know one another because Ma went to high school with Fiocco’s roommate, and according to Ma, he spent a lot of time in Fiocco’s room. On the night of the disappearance, Fiocco happened to pay a visit to Ma’s room after returning from a party.

“He was in a really good mood so that put me in a better mood as well,” Ma recalled. Later on, Fiocco fell asleep in a girl’s room.

The next day only his shoes were there and nobody knew his whereabouts.

As the day went on, Ma and other students eventually called Fiocco’s parents and Campus Police, but the authorities could not act before he had been missing for a full 24 hours.

“It progressed from there, to where it started to sink in that he was truly missing. The mood on campus got more hysterical as more people started to find out,” Ma said.

He described an atmosphere where reporters were constantly on campus, even lurking outside Wolfe Hall and trying to sneak in through the swipe-access doors.

While the disappearance and death of Fiocco affected the entire College community, it felt extremely personal for the residents of Wolfe 4.

“To me it sort of felt like we were kind of insulated, like we were going through this thing and nobody else on campus was,” Ma said. “We kind of felt like we were surrounded by rumor and speculation and we kind of hated everyone else for it — or at least I did.”

Though at times it seemed like Fiocco’s former floor was dealing with this on its own, Ma said, “At the same time, everyone on campus was amazingly supportive.” He fondly remembered residents of Travers Hall hanging a sign that his floor could see from their Wolfe elevator lobby, saying something along the lines of: “We love you, Wolfe 4.”

Legal battles

In 2008, Susan and John Fiocco Sr. filed a $5 million wrongful death suit against the College and the state, claiming insufficient security measures led to the incident.

According to legal documents, Fiocco was last seen alive on March 25, 2006 at approximately 3 a.m. in Wolfe Hall. On the morning of March 28, a “voluminous amount of blood” was found on and around the floor of a trash compactor room located on the lower level of Wolfe Hall. The trash compactor room was allegedly not securely locked.

According to the court documents, “The Court finds that a jury could reasonably conclude that TCNJ’s failure to ensure exterior doors leading into Wolfe Hall were closed and locked created a dangerous condition.”

The court documents cited “gross negligence” on behalf of the College. Examples include 16 daily hours of open access to Wolfe Hall; failure to ensure the doors to Wolfe Hall and its compactor room were locked; open access to the compactor room; and allowing individuals to enter Wolfe Hall without signing in at the front desk when sign-in was required.

In October 2011, the Fioccos alleged that an unnamed College alumnus privately admitted to murdering their son, but no criminal charges were made and the cause of Fiocco’s disappearance remains undetermined.

A conclusion?

To avoid a lengthy trial and the cost of ongoing litigation, a settlement was reached on March 30, 2012.

“We are pleased that The College of New Jersey has finally, after six years, recognized its responsibility for John’s death in failing to provide adequate security for the students in Wolfe Hall,” said Christine O’Hearn in an email. O’Hearn, of Brown & Connery, LLP, represents the Fiocco family.

O’Hearn also provided comment on behalf of the family, stating: “While we are pleased to have reached a settlement to the civil case, it will not in any way lessen the loss of our son, John Fiocco Jr.”

“Although six years have now passed, we continue to hope that law enforcement will at some point develop sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the perpetrator of this crime,” the family’s statement said.

The College also commented on the settlement.

Matthew Golden, associate vice president for Communications and College Relations, provided a statement via email in May: “The sorrow resulting from this tragedy has been compounded by the realization that we do not yet know and may never learn how John died. Although the State of New Jersey has determined that settlement of this matter was prudent to avoid the continued expense of litigation, there has been no finding of any wrongdoing or liability.”

“Nevertheless, our top priority continues to be the maintenance of a safe, secure and welcoming campus, and our deepest sympathies remain with John’s family and loved ones,” Golden continued.

Reflecting on what happened, Ma mentioned how some of Fiocco’s former floormates don’t even like to talk about it.

Ma concluded, “He was a great kid and it was a horrible thing that happened to him and that happened to all of us.”