Former tech worker Joseph Bucciarelli dies in San Jose

  • by Cynthia Laird, News Editor
  • Wednesday May 31, 2023
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Joseph Bucciarelli. Photo: Courtesy Teresa Bucciarelli
Joseph Bucciarelli. Photo: Courtesy Teresa Bucciarelli

Joseph Bucciarelli, a gay man who once had a promising career in the tech field but whose mental illness eventually led him to be homeless, died May 13 in San Jose after he was struck by a transit van. He was 49.

Mr. Bucciarelli, a former San Francisco resident, had been missing for about the past four years, his mother, Teresa Bucciarelli, told the Bay Area Reporter. In spite of friends searching for Mr. Bucciarelli, and occasionally spotting him, he hadn't contacted his mother during that time, she said.

"We've been out there twice to find him," she said in a phone interview from her home in Florida. "He was homeless, abandoned his apartment. Everybody was always trying to help."

Teresa Bucciarelli said that she wants her son to be remembered and that was part of the reason she was speaking out.

"It wasn't an overdose; he didn't jump off a bridge," she said of her son's passing. "The truth is just as tragic."

According to Teresa Bucciarelli, Mr. Bucciarelli was struck and run over at the intersection of Stevens Creek Boulevard and De Anza Boulevard. A spokesperson at the Santa Clara County Office of the Medical Examiner-Coroner confirmed Mr. Bucciarelli's death at about 10 p.m. May 13 of multiple injuries. The spokesperson said that Mr. Bucciarelli was a transient.

The San Jose Police Department said it had no matching reports and referred the paper to the California Highway Patrol. A CHP spokesperson said it had no report under Mr. Bucciarelli's name. A second request to SJPD, asking the department to check again, was not responded to.

Tod Wohlfarth, who dated Mr. Bucciarelli for about six months back in the mid-1990s, said he was "such a sweet man." The two met at a queer-friendly coffee shop in Long Beach, California, in late 1993 or early 1994, he said.

Wohlfarth, who now lives in New York state but previously lived in San Francisco, said in a phone interview that it was his understanding that Mr. Bucciarelli was in New York City prior to coming to California and was working near the site of the first World Trade Center bombing in February 1993. He said he thinks Mr. Bucciarelli may have developed post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of that experience.

"He really didn't get help after that," Wohlfarth said of the period just after that tragedy. "He worked at the mall where everybody had to evacuate."

Initially, their breakup was hard on Mr. Bucciarelli, Wohlfarth said. "He held it against me for years," he said.

Wohlfarth moved to San Francisco and attended UC Berkeley. Mr. Bucciarelli eventually also made his way to the city and the two became friends again.

"He had good friends and had a good job," Wohlfarth said.

In the mid-1990s, Mr. Bucciarelli was working in IT for Wired magazine with Jennifer Holmes. The two became roommates in an apartment in the Castro above Sui Generis on Market Street between 16th and Sanchez streets, Holmes said in a phone interview.

"He had just dropped out of Bennington and was totally self-taught," Holmes said, referring to the college in Vermont. "He was a tech whiz kid. He was super cute and a genius."

Holmes, a bi woman who started in accounts payable at Wired and left as executive assistant to the executive vice president, recalled the late summer of 1995, when Mr. Bucciarelli wanted to go to Burning Man.

"Everybody was going to Burning Man but the [Wired] server crashed so he couldn't go," Holmes recalled. She sent a photo showing Mr. Bucciarelli gathered at the apartment with Burning Man co-founders the late Larry Harvey, Flash Hopkins, and John Law, along with artist Dana Albany in 1996.

Joseph Bucciarelli when he lived at the Market Street apartment with roommate Jennifer Holmes around 1999. Photo: Courtesy Jennifer Holmes  

Holmes, the former producer of the Pride at City Hall party, said Mr. Bucciarelli was charming, funny, and spiritual. He had friends in several circles, from the Radical Faeries to baby bears, she recalled.

"I felt lucky to have him as a roommate," she said.

Around 1999-2000, Mr. Bucciarelli began dating Kevin Muth, a friend of Wohlfarth's who also lived in San Francisco. In an email, Muth, who now lives in New York City, wrote that he and Mr. Bucciarelli "enjoyed eating sweets, playing video games, listening to music, and occasional trips up and down the coast on my motorcycle." At the time, Mr. Bucciarelli was managing the IT for a design company in the South of Market neighborhood, Muth wrote, adding that it was a stressful job.

Much of their relationship was long distance, Muth wrote, as he traveled around the world. "But he came to Bali for a couple weeks of luxury and adventure, riding on the back of my motorcycle, eating exotic fruits and visiting ancient temples," Muth stated.

"When we broke up, he didn't feel like he could continue a friendship, and I moved to New York soon after," Muth wrote. "We bumped into each other two or three times over the decades since then, when I was visiting the Bay Area. There didn't seem to be any hard feelings or bitterness, just nice to catch up with each other for a little bit."

First hints
Holmes said that Mr. Bucciarelli's first mental breakdown in 2002 was precipitated by his use of crystal meth, a breakup with his boyfriend, 9/11, and the death of his brother in 2001 of an accidental overdose. She said that Mr. Bucciarelli did stop his meth use and talked about his PTSD with her.

But a second mental breakdown occurred later — not due to drugs, Holmes said — as Mr. Bucciarelli tried to get his medication dosages balanced.

"In 2018 he reached out to me, and we talked and he pulled himself together and got a good job," Holmes said. "He was so good about his health care and advocating for himself."

"He was really together but he spiraled into deep mental illness," she added. "He was dragged back down."

Holmes said that the last text she received from Mr. Bucciarelli was in July 2019. "Then I discovered he cut me off social media," she said.

Ramona Ocean, a queer woman, was also once roommates with Mr. Bucciarelli in San Francisco. She could not recall the exact years but it was before he was roommates with Holmes on Market Street. In a phone interview, she said he was the best roommate she ever had and they were friends for over a decade. The two were part of a core group of friends — mostly gay men — who would spend holidays together. At one of those gatherings several years ago, Mr. Bucciarelli disclosed that he'd been hospitalized.

Ocean said that she and Mr. Bucciarelli remained close after he moved to another apartment. She became his power of attorney and once had to authorize a blood transfusion once when he was very sick in the hospital.

But over time, Mr. Buccarelli's mental state deteriorated, she explained.

It was Ocean who filed the first missing persons report with San Francisco police, at the request of his mother, years ago, she said. The police found him, she said, but Mr. Bucciarelli indicated he did not want people to look for him.

"I didn't see him after that," Ocean said, though she received occasional text messages asking for money.

Mutual friends would try to get him help in the neighborhood, but he did not want it, Ocean said.

"He is truly missed, and has been for years," Ocean said. "He was such a fabulous person."

Muth said that about a year ago, Wohlfarth forwarded him "a bunch of Facebook videos where Joseph seemed incredibly tortured. He mentioned us both by name repeatedly and I've felt incredibly guilty for any damage I may have done."

Wohlfarth remained in contact with Teresa Bucciarelli through her son's struggles. He said he believed Mr. Bucciarelli was hospitalized under a psychiatric hold at least once, but was released. Ocean said that she and some friends did have Mr. Bucciarelli placed on a 72-hour hold known as a 5150.

Teresa Bucciarelli said that her son suffered for many years and was hospitalized many times for psychiatric care. His last job, she said, was at BBDO, a marketing firm in San Francisco, but that "he stopped showing up."

BBDO did not return a message seeking comment.

"Four years ago I was [in San Francisco] for Mother's Day for a week," she said. "He was fun and witty and smart and handsome. He was so sweet."

Holmes was still in contact with Mr. Bucciarelli at that point in 2019 when his mother visited. "He seemed super happy" with the visit, she said.

Mr. Bucciarelli was born September 9, 1973. His mother said that he grew up in Oak Valley and Glendora, both in New Jersey, and Tampa, Florida. He graduated from Gaither High School in Tampa and attended Bennington College in Vermont.

In addition to his mother, Mr. Bucciarelli is survived by a sister, Lana Bucciarelli; cousins; and many friends.

Wohlfarth said that the lack of appropriate care for people struggling with mental illness, such as Mr. Bucciarelli, was a tragedy.

"Joseph was a wonderful, sensitive man," Wohlfarth wrote in a text message. "The world failed him. We failed him."

For those who are interested, they can make a donation in Mr. Bucciarelli's memory to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Updated, 6/2/23: This article has been updated with donation information for those who are interested.

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