PRINCETON – On the 27-month anniversary of Vanessa Marcotte’s death, about 30 women gathered at the Thomas Prince School to learn self-defense tips and techniques.
Through a newfound partnership with the Vanessa Marcotte Foundation and the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office, correctional officers coached and taught the participants, all women, in the school’s cafeteria on Wednesday how to react and defend themselves if someone grabs their ponytail or bun from behind, if someone grabs their arm and tries to drag them away, and if an attacker pins them to the ground.
“It’s cool that it’s in this community,” said Caroline Tocci, co-founder of the foundation and a cousin of Ms. Marcotte. “This is where Vanessa grew up and not only was the Worcester County sheriff so supportive by reaching out to us, but this community has been really supportive as well, so it’s nice to be able to give something back to them.”
Established in January 2017, the foundation is named after the 27-year-old woman who was murdered on Aug. 7, 2016, while walking near her family’s home in Princeton. The foundation has hosted several events in the area, including an annual 5K walk/run that takes place in August.
Worcester County Sheriff Lew Evangelidis, who grew up in Holden, said Ms. Marcotte’s “hit home.”
“I know my department believes in public safety and women’s safety particularly, and we just felt we want to do something,” he said. “We heard about this incredible foundation and we thought there is some way we can work together to help protect women in this community.”
Sgt. Joel Hilditch, a correctional officer, presented safety tips and demonstrated defense techniques. Female correctional officers assisted the participants as they practiced, and at the end of the training, other correctional officers tested participants on their new skills. Wearing protective head and groin-area gear, they had the women use as much force as possible to fend off the officers playing attackers.
This self-defense course was the first of a “very long-term commitment,” the sheriff said. Ashley McNiff, a co-founder of the Marcotte Foundation, said she anticipates similar self-defense courses will take place through the partnership across Worcester County every other month.
“I think if everyone leaves with just one practical tip that they can apply, I think that will be successful,” she said. “I think with self-defense you do have to take it a lot to master it, but every time I’ve taken a self-defense workshop I’ve learned something different.”
The sheriff said he wanted attendees to leave the event with important safety tips such as notifying family and friends of one’s whereabouts before going out, keeping an earbud in one ear and not both ears, and bringing a friend along for a run or outing.
Ms. McNiff said they kept the Princeton class size small as it’s the first of its kind, and they wanted it to go well.
Two friends who attended the class together said they both felt more confident after the class in their ability to fight back if they’re approached by an attacker.
“I think it’ll help tremendously with feeling more confident when I’m on my walks,” said Kristin Scott of Baldwinville, whose son was friends with Ms. Marcotte.
Ms. Scott’s friend Tanya Allain of Royalston drove about 45 minutes to attend the course and she said she was really happy she participated.
“It gave me a lot of confidence to get out of situations I didn’t think I could get out of before,” she said.
McNiff said the foundation will have a self-defense event called STRIKE for Vanessa in the spring. Last year the STRIKE event took place at Marcotte’s alma mater, Boston University. The foundation also has a Boston Marathon team, and with three bibs to hand out, it already has about 40 applicants