16th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect
ACYF Commissioner's Award Book
Marcella Farinelli Fierro, MD
Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro has served as Virginia's Chief Medical Examiner since 1994. Over the past 12 years, she has demonstrated her commitment to a collaborative and multidisciplinary approach to death investigation and to the use of death studies to promote public health and safety in the Commonwealth. She co-directs the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine, offering week-long courses on topics such as advanced death investigation to medical examiners, crime scene investigators, judges, law enforcement investigators, prosecutors, forensic scientists, and social workers.
As Chief Medical Examiner, Dr. Fierro has established several fatality review teams and death surveillance programs—in the areas of child deaths, deaths attributed to adult or elder abuse, maternal mortality, and domestic violence/intimate partner violence. Committed to a data-driven, public health approach to violence and injury reduction, she believes all violent deaths are premature and therefore preventable. To this end, fatality review and surveillance uncover the specific circumstances of violent death and point the way to interventions.
Under her leadership and guidance, the State Child Fatality Team examined firearm deaths, suicides, unintentional injury deaths, caretaker homicides, and, most recently, motor vehicle deaths to Virginia's children. The Team has documented significant problems with firearm storage and safety in children's homes, links between caretaker supervision and accidental injury death, and strong correlations between child abuse and intimate partner violence. Team recommendations have suggested changes to Virginia law, agency policy and practice, and training and prevention programs.
The skill and dedication of Dr. Fierro and her approach to death investigation inspired mystery writer Patricia Cornwell to write a series of crime novels modeling her protagonist, Kay Scarpetta, after Dr. Fierro. Ms. Cornwell came to know Dr. Fierro when she worked as a computer analyst in Virginia's Office of the Medical Examiner. Ms. Cornwell's novels garner widespread appeal, making the work of forensic pathologists more familiar and accessible to the public.
Dr. Fierro makes a difference. Remarkably hopeful and optimistic, she spends her work time among the dead and uses the knowledge gained there to create safer and healthier communities.