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Shattered: Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart by Violence


Shattered: Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart by Violence

SHATTERED differs from most true crime books in that it was written
by the victim/survivor herself, Puglisi Sharp, with the help of
Marjorie Preston, another survivor who is also a professional
journalist. Sharp was raped, kidnapped, and held captive for sexual
purposes for five days in the mid-1990s. She was chosen at random,
taken from her own home in suburban Delaware, right in the middle
of a spring afternoon when she had been planting rose bushes. The
date was April 20th --- and it's a date that no one who reads this
book will soon forget because of how indelibly it is branded on the
mind of the author, who is also victim and survivor. This is
intensely her story.

Sharp's story begins with her recounting, in her own words taken
from both her police testimony and tapes she made for therapy,
exactly what happened from the moment the man she calls repeatedly
(and only) "the asshole" struck her down in her kitchen, to the
time five days later when she was at last able to partially free
herself so that she could dial 911. Everything is told in first
person in a narrative style, as if she were speaking directly to
the reader. She interrupts the telling of her chilling truth every
few pages, in a cliff-hangerish way, to give us the history of her
life with her husband, Nino Puglisi --- how they met, courted, fell
in love and married. Having all of these reminiscences scattered
among the hard facts like so many rose petals on a shard of ice is
an irritating literary device that I wish her co-author had chosen
not to employ.

Sharp does not know that her husband, Nino Puglisi, is dead until
the morning after her capture, when she hears it on the radio from
the place where she lies bound, gagged and hogtied, on the
asshole's bathroom floor. He's sorry, her captor said, but the
husband surprised him and so he was shot. She had kept her hopes up
the previous night by believing her husband would have called the
police and reported her missing. Now she knows that will not
happen. She struggles to comprehend that her husband is dead.

As the days go on and she is still held captive, tied hand and
foot, she hears on radio and television that she herself has become
a suspect in her husband's murder. Debra and Nino's two children,
fraternal twins named Michael and Melissa, are both off at school
in their first year of college. It is when she hears that the
children and her parents have planned the memorial service and
graveside funeral rites for Nino that Debra finally becomes angry
enough to risk death in the process of escape; up until then, she
had been focused on doing whatever she must to simply stay

Her escape seems almost miraculous, yet is due entirely to her own
efforts, in combination with the fact that "the asshole," whose
real name is Donald Flagg (she doesn't learn his name until after
his arrest), wants to keep her alive. He wants to use her for sex
and to sleep with her, and treats her more like a pet than a human
being. Except, of course, when he's raping her. Within a couple of
days she has figured out that he is addicted to crack cocaine and
was using it at the time he took her and shot and killed her
husband. Flagg has a job (working the night shift at a Chrysler
plant) that he continues to go to while leaving her tied up at

The middle section of the book covers the year after Donald Flagg
is captured, confesses, and is charged with eighteen felony counts
for rape and murder --- all eighteen from this one case --- with
special circumstances that could lead to the death penalty. He asks
for and receives a public defender. It takes a year for the case to
come to trial, and during this time Sharp and her son and daughter
try to put their lives back together. She is by profession a nurse,
an RN specializing in hospice work. It is this special training she
has had in how to detach emotionally from her dying patients that
Sharp, probably rightly, credits for much of her ability to survive
those days she was held captive. However, she is unable to return
to work and is diagnosed with PTSD, post traumatic stress disorder.
This is the section of the book, in which she tells with such
honesty and openness about her fight to think of herself as a
survivor and not a victim, that I found most affecting.

The final third of the book deals with Donald Flagg's trial and the
testimony for both sides, which we hear reported in Sharp's words
in great detail. She wants Flagg to receive the death penalty and
will be satisfied with nothing else; her daughter feels the same,
as does her father and brother (her brother is a policeman). Her
son, however, takes the position that the death penalty is itself a
cruel and unusual punishment. The son attends only half of the
opening day of the trial, which lasts for three weeks. Flagg's
defense lawyers, a two-man team, plead him not guilty by reason of
mental defect. He has been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

The concluding portion of SHATTERED is the most disturbing to read,
because it is painfully clear that Debra Sharp is not satisfied
with the jury's verdict. I will not reveal that verdict here. All
who read the book will have to find their own way through the
complex moral and judicial issues that arise at its conclusion. To
say more in a review would be to spoil the book.

In an Afterword, Sharp tells of her current work with Victims'
Rights groups. Though she does not directly say so, the implication
is obvious: Hers is only one story -- there are so many more
that are equally dramatic that have not been told.

Reviewed by Ava Dianne Day on January 23, 2011

Shattered: Reclaiming a Life Torn Apart by Violence
Debra Puglisi Sharp and Marjorie Preston

  • Publication Date: August 17, 2004
  • Genres: Nonfiction
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atria
  • ISBN-10: 0743444566
  • ISBN-13: 9780743444569