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Collateral damage—Texas child hangs himself after viewing Saddam Hussein lynching
A 10-year-old boy in Texas hanged himself from his bunk bed in an apparent accident after having seen the execution of Saddam Hussein on television. The child of Guatemalan immigrants, Sergio Pelico was found dead on New Year’s Eve by a relative who was watching the children while their mother Sara Pelico DeLeon was at work. He had pulled a slip-knotted rope around his neck, mimicking what he had seen on TV.
Essentially the same tragic scenario was played out in at least three other countries in the wake of the televised broadcast from the Iraqi execution chamber. Also on New Year’s Eve, a 9-year-old Pakistani boy, Mubashar Ali, hanged himself with the help of his 10-year-old sister. Three days later, 15-year-old Moon Moon Karmarkar hanged herself from a ceiling fan in the suburbs of Kolkata, India. And in Saudi Arabia, a 12-year-old boy in Hafr al-Baten, near the Kuwaiti border, climbed on a chair and hung himself with metal wire from a door frame in his family’s home. Security officials said that the child had watched coverage of Saddam Hussein’s hanging.
Few details of the Pelico family’s circumstances have been reported, but those that are available are typical of working class immigrants from Central America and other countries, who live in Houston and cities across the US. Reliance on an extended family network, a father who lives apart from the family in New Jersey, no resources for childcare—while the mother works on a Sunday—other than neighboring relatives looking in, tragically in this instance, not often enough. Nor does Pelico’s family have enough money for a funeral; the family is trying to raise money to bury the boy in Guatemala.
Family members have connected Sergio’s tragic death with the TV news coverage of Saddam Hussein’s execution, aired intensively in the days following the Iraqi ex-leader’s state killing. One of the boy’s uncles, Julio Gustavo said that Sergio was upset by what he saw and had to be reassured that the killing was “OK,” because Saddam was “real bad.”
“I don’t think he thought it was real,” Gustavo said. “They showed them putting the noose around his neck and everything. Why show that on TV?”
Indeed, this was apparently a question that the television executives themselves debated in the wake of the lynching, attempting to determine whether and how much of the video to show. In the end, prurient sensationalism won out, and the footage of Saddam Hussein with a noose around his neck was broadcast, together with incessant references to the “butcher of Baghdad.”