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Newsmaker: Judi Baglier

From grief to advocacy: Son's murder spurs her to counsel parents who lose a child

Monday, June 04, 2001

By Johnna A. Pro, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

In the weeks after her son, John, disappeared, Judi Baglier sat in a therapist's office trying to come to terms with her sorrow and the knowledge that he was presumed dead.

The therapist had an idea: Take down John's pictures. Pack away his medals and trophies. Get rid of his belongings.

"If I could get my hands around her neck today," Baglier said, her voice trailing off. "She didn't understand. I didn't have a grave to go to at first. My son was missing. Thank God I didn't listen to her."

"There's nothing like the death of a child, "says Judi Baglier, whose son, John, was killed in 1996. She now works as a grief counselor. "Working with other families is where my passion is." (Steve Mellon, Post-Gazette)

Today, Judi Baglier, 57, has a cemetery to visit. John's pictures fill her home in Center, Butler County. She has a new therapist.

She also has a mission. She wants to make sure that parents who lose a child to violence or sudden death are not left alone.

To that end, Baglier has devoted her life to supporting grieving families. On May 11, after 150 hours of study over two years, she received a certificate in death and grief studies from the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo.

"She's an example of someone who understands that the death of someone precious to you is not something you get over. It's something you live with," said Alan D. Wolfelt, under whom she studied at the center.

"[She understands] that you need safe places where you can do what we call the work of mourning and get support from people. She creates those safe places for people ... She helps give them hope for going on living."

Privately, and for no charge, Baglier works with families of children who have died suddenly, specifically those who have lost children to violence.

She also has been hired part time by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to provide grief counseling services to inmates at the State Regional Correctional Facility at Mercer.

"I knew after John was killed that, when I reached out to other people, they didn't understand my pain. Most people don't understand what it's like to lose a child," Baglier said. "But working with other families is where my passion is. They know I have firsthand knowledge. When I say, 'I know your pain. They know that I mean, 'I know your pain.' "

In 1996, Judi Baglier was leading a safe, content and affluent lifestyle, one made up of country clubs and casual volunteer work, ski trips and society parties.

Her husband, Dennis, was a successful businessman. Her son thrived in academics and sports at Shady Side Academy.

"I was living a dream life," she said. "I thought it was good life."

On Nov. 9 that year, Baglier's dream life turned into every parent's nightmare.

It was a Saturday night. Baglier and her husband had returned to their Butler Township home from a trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Her son's girlfriend, Carrie Yost, telephoned to ask why John hadn't arrived at her home for their date.

An hour passed and John still had not shown at Yost's home. The Bagliers knew something was wrong.

What the family would piece together later was that 18-year-old John had gone to nearby Clearview Mall, apparently to buy Carrie a birthday gift. At some point, his car was stolen and he was shot in the parking lot by a man later identified as Richard Gamble.

Judi Baglier

Date of birth: Sept. 5, 1943

Hometown: Born in Detroit; lives in Center, Butler County

In the news: Baglier has turned personal tragedy into a life devoted to helping grieving families. Her son John, 18, was kidnapped and murdered in 1996. Judi Baglier received a certificate May 11 in death and grief studies from the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colo. She uses her training to help people who are suffering from the kind of pain she knows from personal experience.

Quote: "My life no longer belongs to me alone. It belongs to those who need me."

Education: Warren G. Harding High School, Warren, Ohio.

Family: Separated from husband, Dennis Baglier


Gamble, 23, stole John's clothes, his jeep and, for a short time, his identity. When hunted down by authorities three days later at an Arizona motel, Gamble committed suicide without revealing what had happened.

On Dec. 30 -- seven weeks and two days after he had disappeared -- John Baglier's body was found in a culvert in Armstrong County, near where Gamble had lived.

Judi Baglier's hell had only just begun.

In the weeks, months and years that followed, she lost control. She found solace not in her husband's arms or in the company of family and friends but in a bottle.

Vodka numbed her pain, and antidepressants kept her going, but nothing made her happy.

She was consumed by her hatred and anger, unable to help herself, let alone her husband of 25 years.

"He was ready to get on with his life. I wasn't," she said. "I couldn't keep up with him."

The couple separated two years ago. A divorce is pending, but they remain friendly. "He sent me a beautiful card for Mother's Day. And a plant."

Today, Judi Baglier said, there was no defining moment that led her to seek help.

What she recalls vividly, though, are the mornings that she got up, got dressed, put on makeup and then crawled back into bed, unable to face the world.

"I finally realized, 'I can't do this for the rest of my life.' I had to let go of some of the pain. I needed to find out how to be a productive person.

"I just thought, 'There has to be more to life than this.' I knew nobody was going to do it for me. I knew I had to do it myself, put the pieces back together."

Baglier entered rehabilitation and has been sober for two years. She also checked into Wolfelt's center in Colorado, where she went to heal, but eventually began taking classes that have led to the work she does now.

"I decided I was no longer a country clubber, golfer, join-a-bridge-club kind of girl. My interests have changed since my son's death," she said. "I don't take things for granted anymore."

Her days are filled with her work and advocacy on behalf of victims and grieving families. She takes cooking classes, spends time with friends and frequently visits a nephew and 4-year-old-grandniece in Ohio, where she keeps two horses. Two dachshunds, Snickers and Jetta, and one Maine coon cat, Shadysides of Silver, keep her company.

She is even ready to start dating and hopes to find a companion who has a family of his own, even grandchildren.

"I'd make a great step-grandmother," she said.

Most of all, she has found a sense of peace about herself.

"I did not understand that grieving is a journey. You have to go through it. You can't avoid it. But it is survivable."

Judi Baglier can be reached at 724-283-5782 or by e-mail at

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