ROME—The Italian parents of 17-year-old Claudio Mandia had just landed at JFK airport in New York with their three daughters from where they had flown in from Italy to celebrate their son’s 18th birthday when they heard the devastating news of his death.
Mandia had studied as a boarding school at the elite EF Academy in the hamlet of Mount Pleasant in Thornwood in Westchester County, New York, earning an International Baccalaureate. The school, with an enrollment of 450 students, manages about $62,000 a year for boarders. He reportedly planned to follow in the footsteps of his entrepreneur father, who runs an Italian frozen pizza export business called Fiad, and believed an American education would give him an edge in the competitive world of business. He was due to graduate in May.
Pietro Benesatto, Mandia’s uncle in Italy, told The Daily Beast the teenager’s parents were met at the airport by a school official who told them he had died. The family, in a statement through the New Jersey-based Bochetto-Lentz law firm which represents them, confirmed on Tuesday that the teenager’s death was by suicide.
“Claudio was a wonderful person and student and he couldn’t wait for his family to come from Italy to New York to celebrate his eighteenth birthday.”
The Mount Pleasant Police Department in Westchester, New York, told The Daily Beast they responded to a 911 call at the academy on Saturday morning and were directed to a room adjacent to the dorms where they found Mandia alone. . He died by apparent hanging. A department spokesperson said a “thorough investigation” was underway with the cooperation of the Westchester District Attorney and EF Academy into the circumstances surrounding the suicide.
In a statement written in Italian, the family claimed that EF Academy placed Mandia in solitary confinement as “punishment” for alleged cheating. Claudio’s uncle Benesatto told The Daily Beast that his nephew’s despair felt like “a sudden illness” brought on by the stress of the alleged punishment of self-isolation.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson for EF Academy declined to comment directly on the family’s allegations that Claudio was placed in solitary confinement as punishment, “Out of respect for the family and the grief that they feel as a result of this unimaginable tragedy, as well as our continued support for the active police investigation.
Meanwhile, Claudio’s family is still trying to come to terms with the tragic loss of their son. “Claudio was a wonderful person and student and he couldn’t wait for his family to come from Italy to New York to celebrate his eighteenth birthday,” the family said in the statement released Tuesday by their family lawyer.
The law firm said the family “intends to take action” against the school, but no legal action has yet been filed, pending full autopsy results, which are not expected. not be complete for at least 10 days.
A spokesperson for the private academy told The Daily Beast in a written statement: “We are deeply, deeply saddened by the tragic passing of Claudio Mandia. Our thoughts are with his family and friends here in New York and at home in Italy. The safety of our school community is always our top priority. We have very strict policies and procedures in place regarding the health and well-being of young people who are away from their home country.
The statement goes on to say, “We are in close contact with local authorities who are investigating the circumstances of his death. We are heartbroken and have offered to provide any support Claudio’s family may need, while mobilizing counselors and additional support for our wider school community.
Mandia’s classmates in New York released white helium balloons with messages of love for their former classmate. But in Italy, former classmates at the Medi Institute in the southern Italian town of Battipaglia, where he was born, have expressed anger over their friend’s untimely death, blaming the system American, culture and school.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.