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‘I had an intuition’: An abusive ex secretly lived in a woman’s attic for weeks, police say

Cary Michael Cocuzzi. (Allegheny County Jail)

For weeks, the woman noticed that strange and inexplicable things kept happening in her skinny, chimney-topped house on the north side of Pittsburgh.

A toilet seat was left up, even though she lived alone with her two daughters and hadn’t had any male visitors. A blanket that she owned, gray with satin trim, turned up in a dark corner of her unfinished basement, where no one ever went.

“I knew that blanket had not been there before,” the 37-year-old told WPXI. “I knew it.”

Then, she heard the noise.

It was just before noon on Saturday, and she was downstairs cleaning her kitchen. Her kids weren’t home, and, at first, she thought the sound had come from her cat bumping around upstairs. But when she went to check what was going on, she discovered that her worst fears had come true.

According to authorities, Cary Cocuzzi, the woman’s ex-boyfriend, was waiting in her bedroom. Almost a month earlier, she had gotten a protection-from-abuse order that barred him from having any contact with her, and she hadn’t heard or seen from him since. But as it turned out, Cocuzzi, 31, hadn’t gone away.

Instead, he had spent weeks hiding in her attic, lurking overhead while she and her daughters slept, authorities say.

"I feel like this is going to affect me for the rest of my life,” the woman, who asked not to be identified, told WPXI. “I had an intuition about it but I ignored it, I brushed it aside. I didn’t want to seem paranoid. You never think this will happen to you, but I should have trusted my instincts because I was right.”

The woman told police that when she got upstairs, Cocuzzi suddenly jumped out at her from behind her bedroom door, startling her. She was terrified because he had tried to sexually assault her in the past, she said. He grabbed her by the arms and placed one hand over her mouth.

“Get over here,” he told her, according to the criminal complaint.

Flailing her arms, the woman broke free and ran downstairs. Cocuzzi chased after her and grabbed her again, the complaint says, but she pushed him away and escaped outside. Soon, 911 dispatchers’ phones were lighting up with calls from neighbors, telling them that there was a woman screaming.

When officers arrived, they found Cocuzzi hiding under a pile of clothing. He told them that he had been sleeping in the attic for about two weeks because he “was tired of being homeless and wanted a place to stay,” the affidavit says.

Though he didn’t have a key to the house, he had discovered that he could sneak in and out through a side door that didn’t face the street.

The woman told WPXI that she thought Cocuzzi had been staying there even longer. For three weeks, she said, small things that had been left out of place, like the upturned toilet seat, made her wonder.

“I just thought, gosh, is this guy in my house?” she told the station. “This is strange.”

Discovering her blanket in the basement left her feeling particularly unsettled. But she shrugged it off, thinking that she would sound ridiculous if she told authorities.

“What could I do?” she said. “I already had the [protective order] against him, and I can’t call the police and say, ‘There’s a blanket in my basement.’”

Police haven’t said what circumstances initially led the woman to request the restraining order, which was finalized on March 25. However, authorities noted in the criminal complaint that she was “extremely afraid” of Cocuzzi and had been visibly upset, and needed time to gather herself after they arrived at her house.

Speaking to WPXI, she said that she felt incredibly violated by the whole experience and was afraid of what would happen when he got out of jail. The one thing she was thankful for, she said, was that her daughters weren’t home when he lunged at her.

“Who knows what could’ve happened?” she said.

Cocuzzi, who does not appear to have a previous criminal record in Pennsylvania, has been charged with burglary, a felony, and unlawful restraint, a misdemeanor that applies in cases where a person “restrains another unlawfully in circumstances exposing him to risk of serious bodily injury.”

He is being held in the Allegheny County Jail in advance of a May 2 preliminary hearing in Pittsburgh Municipal Court. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had an attorney.

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