Charred notebooks lay strewn at the scene of a deadly bomb blast outside a school in Brindisi in southern Italy on Saturday, as thousands took part in an emotional demonstration in the city.
“There was huge black smoke, debris all over the place, piercing screams,” said Corradino De Paolis, a passer-by who rushed to the scene seconds after the blast which killed a 16-year-old girl and seriously injured five more teens.
Investigators dressed in white overalls scoured the cordoned-off area in front of a blackened wall for evidence and prosecutors cast doubt on possible mafia involvement in the bombing in a part ofItaly with a heavy mob presence.
At a demonstration in the city centre, however, there were tears and shouts of defiance against organised crime. One banner at the protest, which began with a minute of silence in honour of the victims, read: “Now Kill Us All.”
“We are citizens of a country where we remember to stay united only when they kill us,” read another banner, held up by schoolchildren and students.
“We have to react!” one student told the crowd in Victory Square, which heckled local archbishop Rocco Talucci and Education Minister Francesco Profumo as they tried to offer words of comfort with cries of “Politicians out!”
“Crime in Brindisi is nothing new but it’s been hushed up. We can’t take it any more!” the student shouted to cheers from the crowd. “We don’t need a massacre to realise there’s a problem. We are strong, we must not be afraid!”
One participant, Lorenzo De Michele, could not hold back his tears, telling AFP: “I’m shocked. Even more so because my daughter goes to that school.”
“This morning we arrived five minutes late. It was total chaos,” he said.
Vincenzo, a lanky 21-year-old with a beard said: “Putting bombs in schools, who could have thought of it? It’s unthinkable, I still can’t believe it.”
“When I heard the news this morning, I cried thinking about that girl with her whole life in front of her,” he said.
Father Luigi Ciotti, founder of the anti-mafia association Libera who has campaigned for years against the mob’s grip, also visited the scene of the blast and attended the demonstration in solidarity.
“Schools are the centres where we form citizens, where we form democracy. This is a very grave attack,” Ciotti said.
“This land has the antibodies to react,” he said.
Brindisi mayor Mimmo Consales declared days of mourning for Sunday and Monday and said: “Today our hearts are broken. Whoever committed this act today has killed Italy, not just Brindisi.”
Trade unionists also joined in offering their condolences.
“I couldn’t believe it at the beginning,” said 42-year-old Antonio Frattini, a local official from Italy’s biggest trade union, CGIL.
“But now I’m angry against this deliberate will to kill.”
Frattini said that for him there was no doubt there was a mafia link since the school was named after the wife of a famous anti-mafia judge who was killed along with him and three bodyguards 20 years ago.
The school has also organised a number of initiatives against the mob.
“It’s a symbolic place that was hit,” he said.
“Brindisi is a city that acted against the mafia, for example by launching initiatives to use land confiscated from the mafia,” he added.
De Paolis agreed: “There are just too many coincidences.”
“It’s true, there is mafia here but we’re not used to this. This was inconceivable before now,” he said, pointing to the scene of the blast.
“It’s full of young people here. They went after them like fish in a barrel,” he said.
A mother with her young daughter walked by. The daughter asked: “Mummy, why are there so many people here today?”
She replied: “Because there are bad people who don’t respect the lives of children any more.”