ROME—Thousands of people bid farewell at an open-air funeral Saturday to a 15-year-old schoolgirl whose killing—announced to her mother on live TV—has shocked this nation.
Sarah Scazzi disappeared Aug. 26 as she walked a short distance in the town of Avetrana, in southern Italy. She remained missing for weeks, while police combed the area for clues.
This week police pulled the body of a girl resembling Scazzi out of a cistern in the countryside just outside the town. The girl’s mother was a guest on a live TV show Wednesday night when she was told that her missing daughter was probably dead—and that her brother-in-law was the alleged killer.
“I can’t believe it,” the mother, Concetta Serrano, said. She sat, apparently in shock, for several minutes as the TV show host read news reports that were coming in about the her daughter’s fate. Serrano was appearing on the show from the house of her brother-in-law, the alleged killer. The brother-in-law, Michele Misseri, was not at home. He was at that moment being questioned by police. Investigators said later that he confessed to killing Sarah.
Some 3.5 million people watched the broadcast on state TV RAI, according to Italian news reports. Many later criticized the host for not cutting the broadcast short. The host, Federica Sciarelli, told the mother she could choose to interrupt the live broadcast at any time. At one point, Sciarelli asked the mother if she understood what was happening.
“I am trying to understand,” Serrano replied.
The prosecutor leading the investigation, Franco Sebastiao, said Thursday that Misseri had confessed that he had killed Sarah shortly after she disappeared. News reports said Misseri confessed to strangling the girl after she refused his sexual advances.
Misseri remains in jail, and news reports have said he is being kept in isolation because other inmates have threatened his life. A banner in Avetrana called for the death sentence. Italy does not have capital punishment; the most severe penalty is life imprisonment.
The funeral Saturday was held in the Avetrana football (soccer) stadium. Thousands of people came from nearby towns to file past Sarah’s coffin. Many applauded as it was being carried inside the stadium. Some threw flowers. Others cried.
The case has led to discussions of the role of TV, and some commentators have denounced what they said was lack of ethics on public television. One lawmaker called it a “horrible reality show.”
“Shameless, outrageous, damned TV!” said La Repubblica, a national newspaper. Sciarelli, the host, insisted she had given the mother the opportunity to leave, and pointed out the woman was also receiving calls from other reporters during the broadcast. Giovanni Orsina, a professor of contemporary history, said ratings should not be the only goal.
“It is a matter of self control, it is a matter of setting standards of ethics,” the professor at LUISS university in Rome told APTN. Those, Orsina said, seem to be things Italian media are not exhibiting anymore