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Plainview girl found dead; mom in hospital

At left, Julie Cirella, 8, in an undated

At left, Julie Cirella, 8, in an undated photo. At right, where Julie was found dead at a house in Plainview. (July 23, 2011) Photo Credit: Handout / Peter Walden Sr.

A disabled 8-year-old preparing to be a flower girl in her cousin's wedding Saturday was found dead in her Plainview home -- and her mother was semiconscious nearby with a cord wrapped around her neck, Nassau County police said.

Det. Lt. Kevin Smith, the department's chief spokesman, said last night that detectives were investigating the girl's death as suspicious and a possible homicide of undetermined cause. No one has been charged.

There were no signs of forced entry into the home, Smith said.

"It does not appear that anyone came into the house and took any violent action against this girl," Smith said.

The girl's mother, Veronica Cirella, 30, may have been trying to commit suicide, he said.

Cirella is hospitalized in the intensive care unit in critical but stable condition at Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Smith said, "It appears that she might have tried to take her own life." He said she was conscious and alert Saturday afternoon.

The girl was identified as Julie Cirella, who family and police said moved with the help of a wheelchair and had cerebral palsy, a neurological disorder that impairs movement and muscle coordination.

There were no immediate signs of trauma on the girl's body, Smith said. The medical examiner will perform an autopsy.

The girl's flower-decorated wheelchair was found in the home, on Shelley Court near Stewart Street, Smith said. Eight people live there, Smith said of the two-story tan Colonial with brown trim.

Saturday, the girl's paternal grandmother, Delores Cirella, entered the home just before 12:30 p.m. and called downstairs, but no one answered.

"She says, 'Anybody home? Anybody home?' " Smith said.

Then she made the discovery in the basement apartment where Julie and Veronica Cirella lived: The girl was on a mattress on the living room floor, with the mother elsewhere on the floor. Delores Cirella summoned a relative from elsewhere in the home and they removed the cord from the mother's neck. The male relative tried to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the girl, police said.

Veronica Cirella's estranged mother, Annie Little of Fairmont, W. Va., learned from a reporter that Julie had died.

"Oh, my God! Oh, no! This was my only grandchild!" she screamed. "Oh, Lord Jesus, have mercy."

She said her granddaughter just had a birthday last month and that her daughter had met Joe Cirella -- her husband and Julie's father -- on the Internet. Joe Cirella has been in the Nassau County jail since late last week after being accused of violating a restraining order. The details of that case were unavailable Saturday.

Veronica Cirella's close friend, Krystal May, of Florida, said Cirella "loved her daughter." May said she and Cirella were text messaging Friday night.

"She was basically saying that she appreciated me so much and thanking me for helping her through her hard times." She said the couple had been arguing.

Neighbors on Shelley Court were en route to the wedding reception late Saturday afternoon as homicide investigators awaited a judge's warrant to enter the crime scene.

Steve and Ilene Robertson, who live across the street, said everyone on the block chipped in to help the family when they needed it.

Asked about the wedding reception, Steve Robertson said: "It's not going to be a happy occasion."

With Aisha Al-Muslim, Robert Brodsky, Jeremy Schneider

and Candice Ferrette

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