Three women teachers were among six people arrested yesterday accused of sedating and sexually abusing children as young as 3 at a school near Rome.
The teachers — two of whom are grandmothers who had taught at the school and at Sunday school for decades — are said to have part in the repeated abuse of 15 children aged 3 and 5 for a year, filming them in sexual acts with satanic overtones at the teachers’ homes and in a wood.
The others arrested were a female caretaker, a former producer of children’s programmes for the state television station RAI, and a local petrol pump attendant. The television producer is married to one of the arrested teachers.
The alleged abuse — in the town of Rignano Flaminio, 25 miles (40km) north of Rome — came to light when some of the children began describing their “games” to their parents. They drew pictures of a “man in black” who wore a hood and drank his own blood, and said they had played a game in which “a wolf chases a squirrel and eats it”.
They were warned that if they told their parents about the “games”, they would be “taken away from their mothers by devils”. If the truth were to come out and they were asked who had taught them to perform sexual acts, they were to say “my father”.
The parents also reported bruising and swelling around their children’s genital areas and that they had returned home from school in a confused state. Police say that the children were given tranquillisers and told they were sweets.
The six face charges including kidnapping, indecently assaulting minors, obscene acts and group sexual assault. Police had to protect the teachers from angry parents as they were taken away, with one shouting: “May you rot in jail for ever.”
Ottavio Coletta, the Mayor of Rignano Flaminio, said that the town of 8,000 people was enveloped in “a poisonous climate of hatred and vendetta”, and Father Erri Rocchi, the parish priest, said he still believed the teachers were the victims of “malicious tongues”. He said that the women were church-goers and taught at Sunday school.
Pasqualina Pellegrino, a former teacher at the school, also said she could swear on the innocence of the teachers and the caretaker. “I simply do not believe they could have done this,” she said.
Some parents, however, complained that the mayor and the school authorities had initially failed to take their suspicions seriously, and the school had not suspended the teachers even after the inquiry began ten months ago. “They accused us of trying to ruin the lives of respectable people,” one said.