Ever-present mother crochets at trial over daughter’s death

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There is a woman who has been crocheting in a courtroom for months. Her name is Daniela, and she is following the trial over her daughter’s death; she never misses a hearing. Every time, she presents herself at the Court of Appeal of Florence wearing her T-shirt with the photograph of Emanuela printed on the front. She sits down, rummages in a bag full of balls of wool and begins to crochet colourful doilies. Intertwining yarns and memories. For hours. “I need to concentrate on something that distracts me slightly from some of the words and arguments I hear in the courtroom,” she said, “otherwise I wouldn’t be able to control myself, honestly; some of the things they say make me want to scream…”

The disaster
Daniela Rombi is 60 years old, and her daughter, Emanuela Menichetti, was one of the victims of the Viareggio railway disaster. At the time she was only 21. It was 11.48pm on 29 June 2009 when a goods train loaded with GPL derailed as it came into Viareggio station; in the collision one of the 14 tanks was ripped open. The gas was ignited by a spark and set fire to a whole neighbourhood, burning things and people. Someone called Daniela at 3.20am: “Your daughter Emanuela wants to speak to you.” And when they passed her over, she said: “Mum, there’s been an accident; there was a fire but don’t worry, I’m fine.” At 7.30am, in a corridor at the serious burns unit, a doctor told her: “It could happen at any moment.” He never actually said the word, “death”, but that was the thing that could “happen at any moment”.

The victims
Emanuela lived for another 42 days in atrocious pain, since she no longer had the shield that protected her from the world: her skin. The Viareggio disaster claimed 32 victims, and the first trial ended, after 140 hearings, with 23 convictions. The charges against the defendants were for causing a railway disaster, manslaughter, arson, grievous bodily harm and gross negligence. Among the defendants, the then CEO of Ferrovie dello Stato, Mauro Moretti, was sentenced to 7 years, and the chief executives of Rete Ferroviaria (Mario Michele Elia) and Trenitalia (Vincenzo Soprano), to 7 years and six months. Now, in the appeal trial, state prosecutors in Florence are seeking stiffer sentences for Moretti (15 years and six months) and Elia (14 years and six months).

The trial
A decision is expected by the end of March and until then the schedule envisages three all-day hearings a week. Daniela – who travels every day from Torre del Lago (Lucca) – sits behind the row of chairs on which the victims’ relatives display T-shirts showing the faces of the loved ones they lost. She takes out her wool and crochet needles; she works and listens. She works and sighs. She works and waits for justice from a system that has already wronged her and other victims. “The period of limitation has already run for arson and grievous bodily harm, leading to the cancellation of charges for these offences”, she complained. “My daughter died of her burns. Fire ate through her skin; how can I accept that the defendants are no longer being prosecuted for arson?” In those 42 days of hope, Daniela saw her daughter from behind a glass partition; the risk of infection was too great to allow her to go closer. “I remember she was sedated but semi-conscious, and the doctors told me to talk to her through the intercom. One day I was telling her something and I saw a tear fall down her face. Her face was the only part of her that she had managed to protect a little …”

“If I caress her, she’ll die”
Daniela has another memory. “The first time they asked me if I wanted to go into her room, I refused. They were surprised, but I was afraid of her picking up an infection. The nurse asked me why not, and I replied: “Because I’m afraid. What will I do if I caress her and then she dies?.” He said, “What will you do if she dies and you haven’t caressed her?” And so I went in, and touched the skin of her face. The young nurse outside the room however had warned me not to lift up the blanket. He didn’t want me to see what state she was in. Six years would pass before I found the strength to look at the photos of my girl. I went back to the consultant who had tried to save her and asked for the photographs. I had the least tragic, the one of her face, enlarged, and held it up when they read out the verdict in the first trial. I got the idea from Stefano Cucchi’s sister, and did the same, because words are one thing, but pictures are another.” She paused. In the silence, Daniela could hear her daughter’s voice. “Mum, I’m staying at Sara’s house in Viareggio tonight”. Sara Orsi was 23 years old. She too lost her life that night.

27 febbraio 2019 (modifica il 27 febbraio 2019 | 17:44)



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