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The Grotesquely False Myth That The Mafia Doesn't Kill Children

Article illustrative image Partner logo The funeral in Naples for 14-year-old Annalisa Durante

PALERMO — Italy was in shock again this week after a 2-year-old boy was killed in a revenge hit by the Sacra Corona Unita (SCU) organized crime syndicate on a Puglia motorway Monday night.

The little boy, Domenico Petruzzelli, was one of three people, along with his mother and her partner — a convicted murderer — shot to death by killers in a passing car in what police believe was part of a mob vendetta.

Indignation, which will quickly fade, has now begun for the latest tragically young victim of Italian mafia violence. We’ve seen it in interviews before, where the residents of the towns obediently whisper, “It’s never happened before.”

That’s not even a little bit true. Children have always been among the innocent victims of the mob, of criminals, of the family feuds that refuse to end. It’s happened so many times, all over the southern section of Italy’s boot, even though the mafia myth says that women and children won’t ever be harmed. 

The collective Italian memory is very short and always feigns shock when a child such as Domenico, murdered in cold blood at age 2, is killed. But then the bad memories fade, forgotten because we can’t stand the enormous weight they place on our own consciences. 

Who remembers Annalisa Durante? She was a teenager from a town outside Naples, gunned down 10 years ago just because she was in the same room where a war was raging among factions of the region’s Camorra mob organization. She had written in her diary: “I want to escape to Naples. I’m scared.”

Then there was Nuncio Pancali, a two-year-old from the Rione Sanità neighborhood in Naples who was in his mobster father’s arms when he was shot in another Camorra feud. 

Even as recently as January, the charred remains of 3-year-old Nicola “Coco” Campolongo, were discovered alongside his slain grandfather in a car in the region of Calabria. As payback for an outstanding drug debt, hitmen from the ’Ndrangheta mob shot the toddler in the head and burned the bodies. 

Coco Campolongo. 

And these days, few people remember the name of Domenico Gabriele, who was shot down as he ran onto a soccer field, unaware that his father was the target of his murderers.

Dissolved, disappeared

One of the most notorious cases was the 1996 slaying of Giuseppe Di Matteo, the 11-year-old son of a Sicilian Mafia boss. The nation was stunned when it emerged that, after more than two desperate years in the hands of his kidnappers, he was strangled and his body dissolved in a vat of acid.

This list goes on and on. Even Sicilians have their own mafiosi fables that people are protected by their age. “Do not touch women or children,” reads the phony unwritten law of the Cosa Nostra.

The origin of the myth is that once upon a time more attention was paid to the safety of women and children. Only if it was “absolutely necessary” was a youngster targeted. Older generations remember when it was “recommended” that killers shoot their victims away from the eyes of family members. But if the intended victims insisted on going around with their children clinging to their necks, as human shields, then they decided to waste little time on niceties. 

A particularly ferocious incident was when Claudio Domino, 11, was shot in the forehead because he was “guilty of seeing something he shouldn’t have.” The mafia, worried about the loss of local support, publicly distanced itself from this case and even had a member read a statement in court during the infamous Maxi trial in the late 1980s.  

It would be absolutely impossible to recount all the terrible stories that have taken place on the island of Sicily. One thing seems pretty conclusive, though: Scrolling through the list of victims, it’s quite apparent that ours is an island for neither women nor children. 

On Saturday, in the city of Latina, on the “Day of Memory and Commitment,” the names of the mob’s 900-plus innocent victims will be read aloud. On Friday, family members of those fallen will meet Pope Francis.

The latest news should give pause to the hardworking businesspeople of Palermo who, just a few days ago, lowered their shutters for the funeral of Giuseppe Di Giacomo, a godfather of Cosa Nostra, as a sign of respect. He was shot in his car with his 9-year-old grandson in the passenger seat, who barely managed to escape harm. 

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