By Victoria's mom, Jackie
When I was 31 years old, I was living in Miami, Florida, producing the Mrs. Florida pageant. My pregnancy with Victoria was a surprise. When Victoria’s biological dad found out I was pregnant, he split. I was scared.
Fortunately, I had a very healthy and happy pregnancy. I was happy to be starting a new life. Victoria was born on November 25, 1996. I felt excited, yet nervous, to be a new mom.
When I left the hospital with Victoria, I remember thinking, “They’re going to let me take her home?” Victoria and I began our life together.
Victoria was not a happy baby. She had colic, and she cried all of the time. Sometimes she cried so hard that she turned purple. Fortunately, she grew into a very happy toddler. She was quick to smile, quick to laugh.
I came from a big family that was happy but poor. I studied computer engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After graduation, I worked three jobs to make ends meet, including waitressing at Red Lobster. My first job after graduation was with IBM.
In 1990, I quit my computer job and moved to New York City to pursue my modeling career. I enjoyed a fun single life, including dating Donald Trump for a bit. I met him when I was a model on the Trump float during the Columbus Day parade.
In 1997, at a friend’s birthday party in Orlando, Florida, I met David Siegel. He was in the process of building his business, Westgate Resorts. He was newly divorced and really depressed at the time. I was head over heels!
David proposed to me during the IllumiNations show at Epcot on New Year’s Eve in 1999; it featured their largest fireworks display ever. We were married in 2000 at Westgate Resorts Orlando.
Victoria was a flower girl. She was the hardest-working flower girl ever. She threw rose petals all over the place up and down the aisle.
David adopted Victoria when she was just one year old. He brought her right into his heart, loving her as much as any dad could love a daughter.
Victoria wasn’t an only child for long. Our son David was born in 1999, Daniel was born in 2000, and Debbie in 2001. After that along came Drew in 2003, then twins Jacqueline and Jordan in 2006. We adopted my niece, Jonquil, in 2007, after her mother—my sister—died of a drug overdose.
Victoria embraced her big sister role. David and Drew followed her around like puppies. Victoria and Debbie shared clothing. Drew and the twins all looked up to her. She loved to play with them and help them.
As an elementary schooler, Victoria was independent, funny, and smart. She seemed to love school. She especially loved art class, drawing, and painting.
I had always enjoyed competing in pageants, and Victoria followed in my footsteps. In 2004, when she was seven years old, she won the Junior Miss Intercontinental pageant. Victoria enjoyed taking lessons such as dance, and she also participated in a lot of activities, including cheerleading.
As you can see in these early photos, she was a happy kid!
I always thought Victoria was beautiful, fit, perfect. But as she got older, she started to perceive herself as chubby. The girls especially started to tease her about her weight and also about our financial success. It was brutal, and it severely damaged Victoria’s self-esteem.
I believe this is when Victoria’s sadness with the world began.
In 2008, David’s mom, Victoria’s grandmother, died. This was a very sad time for Victoria.
When Victoria went to middle school, she became more and more preoccupied with her weight. I was concerned. I observed a cycle of eating/starving/eating. When Victoria was 12 years old, we sent her to a weight-loss camp. I had hoped it would help her self-esteem. It didn’t.
I think the bullying at school kept getting worse and worse. Victoria tried to make friends by giving gifts and money. But that made her wonder if the kids were truly her friends at all.
At home, we enjoyed doing things together, especially painting and swimming. We moved to our current, beautiful home near Orlando, Florida, in 2006. We had many cherished traditions, such as getting our family photo taken at the holidays. Victoria especially enjoyed it when our whole family was together.
We were fortunate that David’s business with Westgate Resorts flourished. We were able to take many happy family vacations together. We especially enjoyed going to Utah, Daytona Beach, and Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Our children all enjoyed skiing and mountain biking.
One thing I noticed early about Victoria that continued her entire life was her empathy for other people—and also for animals.
Victoria talked about becoming a vet someday. She loved to rescue animals. She had a soft spot for the injured, sick, and ugly ones! One time she adopted a Chihuahua who was so sick he had no hair. Victoria found out he was scheduled to be euthanized the next day, so she brought him home. She saved his life.
Victoria’s favorite pet was a dog that she rescued. I remember once she went on a school trip, saw a dog, and begged to bring him home. When Victoria was young, our home was filled with pets. At one point, we had eight dogs, seven cats, white peacocks, and even white tigers in our menagerie! I had to send the tigers to a sanctuary when they got too big and started acting dangerous!
In 2008, while I was shopping at a store in Los Angeles, I met a film director. Little did I know how that chance meeting would change our lives.
The director offered me the opportunity to star in a movie about how David and I were building the biggest house in America. The film crew practically moved in with us 24/7 for two years. For me, it was an enjoyable process. I didn’t realize how damaging it was for Victoria.
During the filming, Victoria felt she had no privacy. She also felt that the movie had presented our family in a bad light. Then when the show aired, the kids were horrible to her. Victoria had tried hard for her peers not to know how wealthy we were. But now suddenly they all did. I later learned she felt it was the worst time of her life.
David and I tried to encourage Victoria’s health and happiness. In 2009, when she was 14 years old, she did a photo shoot. She really seemed to enjoy it.
In 2011, Victoria went to high school. She hated it. She often tried to skip school. I was so worried about her mental health that I took her to see a psychiatrist, who prescribed Xanax. It didn’t seem to help.
Victoria’s friends were increasingly bad kids. When they came to our home, they stole things—money, laptops, anything they could get their hands on. I feared that Victoria might not graduate. But she did.
After graduation, Victoria moved from our home to a separate guesthouse. She had wanted to move out, and I thought this was a good compromise: She’d have some independence, but I could still keep an eye on her. This turned out to be a fatal mistake because I had less control over what she was doing and where she was going.
I began to be more aware of Victoria’s drinking and drug use. One day in 2015, Victoria thought that she had taken too much Xanax. She didn’t think she was going to wake up, and she typed a “goodbye text.” She sent it to her ex-boyfriend Matt.
Fortunately, she did make it, and the next day she came to me.
“Mom, I need help,” Victoria said. She asked me to take her to rehab. I took her. And that’s where she met the “love of her life.”
He turned out to be a 26-year-old heroin addict. Meeting him set in motion a tragic chain of events that led to Victoria’s death. Our lives would never be the same.
On June 6, 2015, Victoria Siegel passed away at our home in Windermere. She died from acute methadone and sertraline toxicity, according to the medical examiner’s report. Her death was ruled an accident.
About the Author: Jackie Siegel a former Mrs. Florida America, has a full-schedule as a devoted mother, model, actress, and philanthropist. Happily married to Westgate Resorts founder and CEO David Siegel, together they have eight children. She is also on the Board of Directors for the Westgate Resorts Foundation. She keeps herself busy running a charity thrift mart and participates in other numerous charity activities.
Jackie and David are the authors of Victoria’s Voice: Our Daughter’s Dying Wish to Share Her Diary and Save Lives from Drugs, by David and Jackie Siegel. They also starred in the Sundance Award-Winning movie “The Queen of Versailles.”