Young Danbury Sisters Touched By Tragedy Begin New School Year In New Home

DANBURY, Conn. -- Three young sisters started life with a new family in a new home in Mamaroneck, N.Y., earlier this summer. On Tuesday, former Danbury residents Gabby, Reagan and Riley Cappello will step into new schools, taking another step in rebuilding their precious lives with the support of Amy and Jon Stellwagen.

Gabby Cappello, left; and her sisters Regan, right, and Riley, second from right, with their cousin Chase Stellwagen, will start school in the Rye Neck district on Tuesday.
Gabby Cappello, left; and her sisters Regan, right, and Riley, second from right, with their cousin Chase Stellwagen, will start school in the Rye Neck district on Tuesday. Photo Credit: Contributed

“They’ve been very resilient in light of what they’ve gone through in the past six months,’’ said Jon, the girls’ uncle. “They are doing great, even though they’ve had a lot of things thrown at them in a short time.”

The girls’ mother, Niki Newtown-Cappello of Danbury, died suddenly on March 10. Internal hemorrhaging brought on by a lung infection forced her organs to shut down. Gabby, 11; Regan, 8; and Riley, 6, finished out the school year at St. Joseph’s in Danbury. The Stellwagens and their 2-year-old son, Chase, temporarily moved from Mamaroneck to Danbury as the girls finished the school year.

In early summer, the Stellwagens had their two-family Mamaroneck home converted to a single-family structure. “George to the Rescue,’’ a popular New York-based television show, learned of the family’s plight and renovated the structure.

In four weeks, the team led by George Oliphant reconfigured the entire home. A three-bedroom upstairs apartment was converted into four bedrooms. The downstairs, where the Stellwagens previously lived, has a similar layout but will include a guest room for the girls' aunt, Tethra, a formal living room, kitchen, dining room and play/study area for the girls with individual desks. The Stellwagens are handling that renovation on their own. They created a GoFundMe page to help with renovations. Click here to visit the page.

“Normally, people apply to the show and they have to go through a lengthy vetting process,’’ Jon said. “When they were given the whole story of us coming from Danbury, they stopped production on other homes and did everything in four weeks. It was incredible.”

The renovation team took care to incorporate the wishes of the girls in their plans. Gabby, for instance, wanted a room that reflected a Paris theme. Regan, who will share a room with Riley, wanted to include unicorns and a beach. With the help of Mamaroneck businesses and neighbors, George to the Rescue started work in mid-June and the family moved to their permanent home in July.

“They love their rooms, and the show did an incredible job of capturing their personalities and desires,’’ Jon said. “The last few days that they were here, we must have had 50 people working at the house.”

More important than their physical surroundings, the girls have been embraced by the Mamaroneck community. “They’ve made a ton of new friends and the entire community has been supportive,’’ John said. “They’ve been on Skype with their friends from Danbury and are excited to tell about their new friends and schools. They don’t seem upset to not be attending their old school but rather excited for their new environment.”

The girls will attend different schools in the Rye Neck district. Gabby will attend Rye Neck Middle School. Reagan will be in fourth grade at F.E. Bellows Elementary, and Riley will be a second-grader at Daniel Warren Elementary. In Danbury, all three were in the same building at St. Joseph’s, so it will be a huge change. Even little Chase will start his first year of preschool.

The girls are also busy registering for fall sports and activities as well as joining Resurrection Church in Rye. Amy and Jon have adjusted to their new life as well, savoring the precious time they have with each other. They also make certain to honor Niki, a single mom who devoted her life to her children. “We reference her all the time,’’ Jon said. “The girls have their own special mementos of her in their rooms. We planted a tree in the backyard with a plaque beside it to remember her. We talk about her and make her a part of what we’re doing.”

Life took an unexpected and complicated turn for the Cappello girls and the Stellwagens in March. The most complicated logistical hurdles have been removed. The work now begins to establish and maintain a sense of normalcy for everyone.

“What Amy and I love most about each other is when a goal is put in front of us, we don’t get upset,’’ Jon said. “We take it head on. It’s brought us closer together. The bottom line is, every time we have a decision to make it is thinking about what’s best for the girls and Chase. That’s what has gotten us through.”

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