The Italian parents of 17-year-old Claudio Mandia had just landed at New York’s JFK airport with their three daughters where they had flown from Italy to celebrate their son’s 18th birthday when they were told the devastating news that he was dead.
Mandia had been studying as a boarding student at the elite E.F. Academy in the Mount Pleasant hamlet of Thornwood in Westchester County, New York, finishing an international baccalaureate degree. The school, with a student body of 450, runs around $62,000 a year for boarding students. He reportedly planned to follow in the footsteps of his entrepreneur father, who runs a successful frozen Italian pizza export firm called Fiad, and thought an American education would give him a leg up in the competitive business world. He was set to graduate in May.
Pietro Benesatto, Mandia’s uncle in Italy, told The Daily Beast that the teen’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 representing them, confirmed on Tuesday that the teen’s death was by suicide.
“Claudio was a wonderful person and student and he couldn’t wait for his family to come to New York from Italy to celebrate his eighteenth birthday.”
The Mount Pleasant Police Department in Westchester, New York told The Daily Beast that they responded to a 911 call at the academy Saturday morning and were directed to a room adjacent to the dorms where they found Mandia alone. He had died by apparent hanging. A spokesperson for the department said a “thorough investigation” was underway with the cooperation of the Westchester District Attorney and the E.F. Academy into circumstances surrounding the suicide.
In a statement written in Italian, the family claimed that E.F. Academy had placed Mandia in isolation as a “punishment” for suspected cheating. Claudio’s uncle, Benesatto, told The Daily Beast that his nephew’s desperation seemed like “a sudden illness” that was driven by stress from the alleged punishment of self-isolation.
In a statement to The Daily Beast, a spokesperson E.F. Academy refused to comment directly on the family’s allegations that Claudio had been placed in isolation as punishment, “Out of respect for the family and the grief they are experiencing following this unimaginable tragedy, as well as our ongoing support of 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 to New York from Italy to celebrate his eighteenth birthday,” the family said in the statement issued by their family lawyer Tuesday.
The law firm said the family does “intend to take action” against the school, but no such lawsuit has yet been filed, pending full autopsy results, which are not expected to 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 back home in Italy. The safety of our school community is always our top priority. We have very strong policies and procedures in place regarding the health and wellbeing of the young people who are away from their home countries.”
The statement goes on to say, “We are in close contact with the local authorities who are investigating the circumstances of his death. We are heartbroken and have offered to provide whatever support Claudio’s family may require, while also mobilizing counselors and additional support for our broader 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 spoken out about their anger over their friend’s untimely death, blaming the American system, the culture, and the school.
If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.