Michele Stallone-Cuello was on her honeymoon in Mexico when she heard the news.
Her former co-worker and friend, Ellen Greenberg, 27, had been found stabbed to death inside her Venice Lofts apartment in Manayunk.
“I was devastated, shocked, just stunned,” Stallone-Cuello said. After spending an entire year co-teaching in the same classroom as Greenberg last year and visiting her inside that very same luxury apartment on the sixth floor, Stallone-Cuello was in disbelief.
“She had everything going for her,” Stallone-Cuello said. “She was newly engaged, had great friends, great family, great career…everything she wanted was falling into place.”
But it all came to a shocking hault on Jan. 26 when Greenberg’s body was found with multiple stab wounds to her chest inside her apartment complex on Flat Rock Road, just off of Main Street.
It’s been nearly two weeks since the stabbing and the cause of Greenberg’s death is still uncertain.
A police detective initially reported that the case was ruled a “homicide” by the medical examiner’s office. However, a few days later, the city Police Department backed away from that statement, saying the case had not been ruled a homicide and was being investigated as “suspicious.” As of Monday night, police said there were no new developments.
Either way, Greenberg’s family, friends, co-workers and neighbors are searching for answers.
Stallone-Cuello said she finds the notion that Greenberg committed suicide implausible and unfair.
She recalled first meeting Greenberg during a job interview at Juniata Park Academy on East Hunting Park Avenue. As one of the founding teachers of the school, Greenberg sat on the panel of staff members that helped pick new hires.
Stallone-Cuello was brought onto the team as a guidance counselor for the elementary school and was placed in Greenberg’s first-grade classroom to co-teach with her five days a week.
“Ellen was so energetic, just a little ball of energy,” she said. “She was so smart and very charismatic and engaging when it came to her work.”
While working alongside Greenberg each day in class, at parent meetings and grade group meetings, Stallone-Cuello said it quickly became clear how dedicated she was to her students.
“Those little guys loved her,” Stallone-Cuello said. “The day started with hugs in the morning and ended with hugs when they left. If she was absent, they didn’t perform well; they just weren’t happy without her.”
Perhaps that was because Greenberg always brought a little fun into the classroom. She was a big believer in hands-on learning, and did things like incorporating a pilates session into a lesson plan.
One day, while teaching the students about anti-bullying, Greenberg initiated the idea that the classroom was to be a “friendship center” for the kids. Her personal connection to the class ran deep. Stallone-Cuello said she would often invite her parents into the classroom to meet the students.
Stallone-Cuello said she was appalled by the initial reports indicating that the wounds may have been self-inflicted, which she said just doesn’t connect to the Greenberg she knew.
“It’s applying a stigma to her character, it’s not relevant and it’s extremely irresponsible to imply that this was self-inflicted when the investigation isn’t complete,” she said.
As a mental health professional, who has dealt with suicides both in her professional and personal life, Stallone-Cuello acknowledged that suicide rates among women are generally the highest in February, March and April. But she insisted that that suicide would be “out of character” for Greenberg.
“People who attempt suicide typically show signs of depression, withdrawal, they’re not focused on their career,” she said. “That’s not the case with Ellen, she had everything going for her.”
And she pointed out that most women who attempt suicide usually choose non-violent methods, such as pill overdose.
Stallone-Cuello, now a professor at a Lincoln Technical Institute in New Jersey, says she’ll never forget the last moments she spent with her beloved co-worker at the end of last school year.
“I had just gotten engaged and she wasn’t engaged yet but already shopping for rings,” she said. “We were both really excited, she was showing me pictures; it was one of our many personal moments.”
Less than one year later, Stallone-Cuello hopes that, as the investigation unfolds, people will remember and respect Greenberg’s bubbly and career-driven character.
Greenberg’s parents have not returned calls seeking comment. Her fiance, Samuel Goldberg of Gladwyne, Pa., has made no public comment since her death.
Did you know Ellen Greenberg? If so, you are invited to write about your memories and feelings in the comment space below. Greenberg’s friends and co-workers have been offering condolences to the Greenberg family through an online memorial page.