Around 9 p.m. Wednesday, December 17, 2008, life hummed along normally at the Waverly Las Olas condominium on the corner of Broward Boulevard and U.S. 1 in Fort Lauderdale. For the holiday season, some residents of the luxury high-rise had decorated their balconies with twinkling lights. A woman in apartment 1006 watched television. A guy in 1402 lounged in bed. His roommate, who was in the living room, opened the patio door to enjoy the cool evening air.
Then the woman in 1006 heard a horrible scream. She turned off her TV set but didn't hear anything else. The men in 1402 each saw something fall past the windows. The guy in the living room ran onto the balcony, looked down, and saw a woman's body. He called 911.
Adrianna Aurigemma was a pretty 19-year-old with long brown hair and soulful eyes. She died instantly after falling ten stories, from an acquaintance's top-floor apartment onto the balcony of a fifth-floor condo, whose owner was not home. The incident would leave close friends and family in a deep, devastating grief.
teenager falls from high-rise
Adrianna's death also left some people with doubts. Her family and several friends suspected foul play. For months after the accident, police would not release details of their investigation. They kept silent about what Adrianna was doing before she fell and whether anybody took part in her death. And even now, after police have offered up their answers, some people who knew her aren't satisfied with the official story.
In the weeks following the incident, Adrianna's father, Peter Aurigemma, posted flyers around Fort Lauderdale seeking information about her death. A former police detective, he believed the event was suspicious.
"There is no way she decided to jump off the railing herself!" he said at the time, frustration smoldering in his voice. "If there was foul play and somebody caused it, I want to make sure it doesn't happen to somebody else."
Adrianna's family remembered her as a sweetheart with a deep love for animals. "She'd bring home stray dogs, injured birds," her father recalled. "She'd be carrying a little bird I can't remember how many times! We'd take it to the vet. It'd be costing me money. But I didn't mind because it was a good example to set and the right thing to do."
Her parents said she was attached to her dog, a bichon frise named Sparky. Sometimes, when no one was looking, she would let him off the leash to run down the street. "Be free, Sparky!" she would yell.
Adrianna attended Olympic Heights High School in Boca Raton. At the time of her death, she was still living in her parents' home, where friends would often visit and spend evenings under the gazebo in the big back yard. A close friend, Stephanie Samsel, describes Adrianna as happy-go-lucky and funny. "I dated her brother when she was 15 or 16," Samsel says. "Whenever her brother would tell her no, she'd plead with me and make a cute little puppy face."
By 2008, Adrianna was studying at Florida Atlantic University. During the presidential election, she began to develop an interest in politics.
"Don't get me wrong," her father said shortly after her death. "She was a teenager. She had her moments." Police reports released in March indicate she'd once had trouble abusing prescription drugs and went through a rehab program.
Adrianna had not come home the evening of December 17. A police report states, "The victim's father, believing that she was relapsing in her drug use, began to call the victim to see where she was at and when she was coming home. After receiving several excuses from the victim, Peter Aurigemma decided to [enlist] the help of several of the victim's friends to help locate her."
Eventually her father figured out she was at the Waverly. He had picked her up from there once before. Peter Aurigemma showed up at the high-rise and made up a story to get past the security guard. He took the elevator to the 15th floor. There, Ray Williamson, the 47-year-old owner of unit 1502, allowed him in. Adrianna was in a bedroom with 22-year-old Craig Allan Barnes and 27-year-old William Todd Chapman. Court records show Barnes has faced charges five different times for possession of methamphetamine (he pleaded guilty three times, one case is still open, and another file does not include sentencing information); he has also been arrested for battery (he pleaded guilty) and domestic violence (charges were dismissed). Chapman was once arrested for possession of methamphetamine, but charges were dismissed.
According to a police report, "Barnes stated that he, Chapman, and the victim had smoked some 'crystal meth' around an hour earlier while in the bedroom and that Chapman had fallen asleep on the bed during the listed incident." Peter Aurigemma knocked on the bedroom door and announced he was there to take Adrianna home.
Barnes — whose MySpace photos show he is slender, with blue eyes and a goatee — told police that he and Adrianna would not let her dad in. "As he continued to knock," the police report states, Adrianna "ran to the balcony of the bedroom in an attempt to hide. A few moments later, a scream was heard coming from the balcony and then a loud thump." Barnes said that when he looked out onto the balcony — decorated with potted plants, a small Christmas tree, and holiday lights — there was no Adrianna. Barnes peered over the edge and saw her below. He burst out of the bedroom, yelling, "Oh my God, she fell!" Chapman awoke, and all four men hustled down to the fifth floor.
When police arrived, a manager let them into the fifth-floor apartment. Adrianna appeared to have died on impact. Her cell phone was found the next day in a planter nearby.
Up in Williamson's apartment, police found a glass pipe in a drawer. Tests showed it had Chapman's fingerprints on it. In Adrianna's purse were five pills, although a police report doesn't specify what kind.
Immediately in the wake of the incident, Peter Aurigemma was frustrated with the police response. His daughter was afraid of heights, he swore, so there was no way she would have climbed over the railing. He said he had been a cop but "I'm retired now — I'm just John Q. Citizen, I don't have a badge anymore."
News reports from spring 2000 show that Peter Aurigemma was an undercover detective, fired from the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office for falsifying a cocaine buy so that police could shut down a reputed drug haven. Friends and fellow officers characterized him as a well-respected if overeager officer who had made an error in judgment.
Adrianna's friend Samsel says Adrianna had tried crystal meth with Barnes two days before she died. "She called me and said she couldn't believe he let her talk her into it," Samsel remembers. "She felt so dirty." Adrianna worried that Samsel would no longer be her friend. "I told her to calm down. She needed to learn how to say no to peer pressure."
Samsel believes Adrianna's death wasn't an accident. "Someone must have pushed her," she says. "I don't see her being on that balcony. It doesn't make sense." She also can't imagine Adrianna would have avoided her father. "She would've just gone with him. She wasn't scared of him at all."
Months after her death, toxicology tests determined Adrianna's system included oxycodone, THC, amphetamines, methamphetamine, and benzodiazepines. Police ruled her death an accident and closed the case.
Fort Lauderdale Police spokesman Frank Sousa says the drugs in Adrianna's system spoke for themselves. He says his agency did not make any drug-related arrests of the men at the scene because police have no authority to arrest someone for simply admitting drug use, and it would be difficult to prove ownership of the pipe.
In a report, Det. John Curcio wrote, "Though the credibility of the two subjects in the bedroom with the victim may come into question due to their drug use and past arrest history, there is no factual, physical, or testimonial evidence to show they were even out on the balcony with the victim when she fell." There was no struggle, and "no logical motive" for either of the men to do her harm, he wrote. She might have been trying to climb to a lower ledge and slipped.
Still, some people have wondered how Chapman could have fallen asleep if he had just smoked crystal meth, since the drug usually makes users hyperactive. Chapman could not be reached for comment.
Barnes did not return phone calls from New Times, but Nicky Amendolaro, who used to be one of his closest friends, says Barnes "took it hard" when people suspected he might have played a role in Adrianna's death. Barnes's MySpace page reads, "Only God can judge me." His pictures include two of his mug shots and a photo showing the nighttime view from a balcony of the Waverly apartment.
The condo owner, Williamson, says he has moved out and the apartment is in foreclosure. "I wanted to get away," he says. "Once in a while, I still have nightmares."
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Adrianna's family has not returned calls since the release of police documents. But shortly after the incident, Peter Aurigemma said, "I don't even know how life goes on at this point. I'm trying to hold it together for my family, but it seems like there's no life ahead for me or anybody. But I know the sun will rise and set every day. Life has to go on." The death made him question his religion. Adrianna's mother was too distraught to speak.
Peter described Adrianna's funeral. The family took Sparky with them to the cemetery. "He could sense something was wrong," Peter said. "He sniffed the coffin and he started crying. It broke my heart."
A Loxahatchee man who releases doves at special events — usually weddings — offered to set free some of his birds. A funny thing happened. Peter said the doves normally circle one or two times before dispersing, but at the funeral, they lingered and circled for about 45 minutes. The bird man said he had never seen such a thing.
Peter Aurigemma said it was as though Adrianna couldn't bear to leave the world. His voice strained, he remembered thinking, "I'm sorry, but Daddy just can't fix it. I can't make it better this time."