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Italians Shaken By Spate of Violence Against Children

July 16, 1995

ROME (AP) _ Pulling up to his extranged wife’s home in his white Maserati, the off-duty policeman called for his children.

They came running, and he met them with gunshots: Nicola Azzara, 8, died a few hours later. His 12-year-old sister Chiara remained in a coma Sunday.

It was the latest in a series of violent acts against children by their parents that has shocked Italians, leaving many to wonder what has gone wrong in a country where kids so often are the center of lavish attention.

``What can be said about an Italy close to 2000 that is showing such unheard of ferocity toward its children?″ asked the newsweekly Panorama.

Like a rash of unrelated murders of young women last summer, the dark headlines come as millions of people each week flee on vacation or head for seaside discos. Images of covered corpses and battered newborns have appeared daily on the television news.

No police statistics were immediately available, but the national child abuse hotline has reported an increase in calls in recent months, and the nation has been riveted by a rash of highly publicized incidents:

_On July 11, in a village near the northern city of Novara, a man, 38, killed his 10-year-old daughter with a rifle shot, then fatally shot himself.

_A 19-year-old woman and her boyfriend have been charged with leaving her newborn baby to die on the banks of a river in Pescara, on the Adriatic. The infant girl’s body was found July 4.

_An abandoned newborn girl was found barely alive three days earlier near Potenza in the south. The mother, 18, and her parents have been implicated.

_A 5-year-old boy in Florence was strangled and bashed with a hammer June 29 by his mother, who also attempted suicide.

_On June 13 a 2-year-old girl from Prato, outside Florence, died in the hospital after four days in a coma. She had been sexually assaulted and struck in the head. Her grandfather and step-father are suspects.

``Something profound and violent is happening in our society,″ Ernesto Caffo, founder of a child-abuse hotline, told the L’Unita daily.

In the most recent case, Massimo Azzara, 34, had a long history of disputes with his wife and was apparently angry over their separation. He recently had been transferred from Massa Carrara, on the Tuscan coast, to Sicily for threatening his family, the Milan daily Corriere della Sera reported.

He shot himself in Friday’s carnage, and was brain-dead at Pisa’s Santa Chiara hospital, Dr. Ferdinando Cellai said Saturday. Chiara was still in a coma Sunday, hospital officials said, and was not expected to survive.

Nicola Lalli, a University of Rome psychiatry professor, said the violence is ``more shocking than in other countries″ because of the tendency among Italian families to lavish attention on children.

Lalli also suggested that some fathers may lash out at the weakest around them when the traditional authority of the ``padre padrone,″ or all-powerful father, is threatened by their wives.

Others suggested crises between feuding parents are set off when summer vacation plans are made. In the case of the abandoned newsborns, the shame of out-of-wedlock births in a Roman Catholic country may play a role.

But Cesare Cassone, a paramilitary police official investigating the Potenza case, warned against trying to pinpoint some overriding factor.

``Evil is much more banal than we imagine,″ he told Panorama.