Things were supposed to be turning around for 13-year-old . He had been diagnosed with severe dyslexia, which explained his struggles in school, and was getting help.
He’d begun to feel less insecure, even hopeful about his future.
For these reasons, his family will never understand why the seventh-grader shot himself after midnight Wednesday while his 16-year-old brother Jimmy watched television in the next room.
“I know he had his dark times, but things were getting better,” said Jim Ferrara, Joey’s dad, who was driving home from a San Diego business trip when he got the call.
“Just within the last couple of months, he’d been so positive — walking around with this new air about him. Man, that kid could brighten your day and you have to know that there were a lot of kids out there who really loved him.”
Jim and Lydia Ferrara struggled Thursday afternoon to describe their son in an interview. He was a complex kid — happy yet sad; a benevolent defender of those physically weaker than him, and yet angry.
“He felt everything,” said Jim Ferrara.
Joey and his family moved to Pleasanton from Clovis when he was 2 years old. He went to , and then after one month at , he was kicked out. He went to for a spell, then to for a summer, then back to Hart. Again, that didn’t go as planned. When he died, he was a student at Opportunity Middle School, a program within .
He lashed out sometimes because he felt angry over not being able to read very well, his dad said. Dyslexia makes it hard to read or spell.
Also, from kindergarten on, he was always bigger than the other kids — taller, larger, tougher. He felt like he didn’t belong, and by middle school, he was using marijuana to self-medicate, Lydia said. He’d been arrested by the Pleasanton police for using drugs and his probation was supposed to end this May.
“He was looking forward to getting past that and having a fresh start,” his dad said. In fact, he had decided to go back to Hart next year to give it another try.
He often looked out for kids smaller than himself, which is why he had a reputation for getting into fights. His dad says he usually was stepping in to defend someone else.
Things were tough at home, too. His mom and dad, though on friendly terms, separated. Lydia Ferrara, who works in retail, moved to Livermore but then moved back home after being diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent three surgeries and later moved back to Livermore, all in an 18-month period. For Joey, it was a lot to take.
Kari Dukleth’s son, Dustin, has known Joey since kindergarten.
“I loved that kid, and I can’t imagine what his parents are going through,” she said. “He was 13 years old.
"He was so intelligent — the things he would say blew me away, and I would think, 'That kid is really smart.' I don't care about the stuff people say about him having trouble — it boils down to we have a kid who is gone."
Joey was on video chat when he shot himself, and his family did not want to discuss that out of respect for the friend on the other end.
They would rather talk about their good memories.
The one that hits Jim Ferrara is this: a visual of Joey as a kindergartner, twice as big as other kids his age, swinging across the monkey bars on the playground two at a time and laughing all the way.
“Those little girls watching were in awe of him and those second-graders’ eyes were just so wide — they couldn’t believe this kid was only a kindergartner,” he said.
He really started getting into weight-lifting, working out with his brother at the family’s home gym, and high school wrestling coaches were eager to have him, said Jim Ferrara, who works in the electrical engineering field.
Yesterday, a dozen kids went over to the Ferrara house on Big Bend Court after they heard the news.
“They didn’t really know how to react, so they just stood there looking at the house,” Jim Ferrara said.
“They just gravitated. So I went out and talked with them. Anyone should feel free to come by if they need to, even if they don’t want to say anything. To get closure.”
Students who knew Joey plan to wear purple to school Friday — Joey’s favorite color — and continue to pour condolences and memories onto a Facebook page created after his death.
The Ferraras said they wanted to talk openly about his dyslexia because it might help other students going through the same thing.
“We want kids to understand that for every bad day, there’s a good day around the corner,” said Lydia Ferrara. “They can get help.”
Meanwhile, counselors within the school district will continue providing counseling for any student who needs it. Terry Conde, the principal at Hart, said Thursday that about 60 students talked to counselors at her school Wednesday after hearing the news. Those services will continue to be available, she said.
A memorial service is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday at . Anyone is welcome.
Jim Ferrara said it will not be a formal service, but there will be an open microphone where Joey’s friends can speak, along with a slide presentation and music that he loved.