ROME— Claudio Mandia’s Italian parents had just arrived at JFK airport in New York with their three daughters, where they had come from Italy to celebrate their son’s 18th birthday when they received the tragic news that he had died.
Mandia had been pursuing an international bachelor’s degree as a boarding student at the exclusive E.F. Academy in the Mount Pleasant hamlet of Thornwood in Westchester County, New York. The boarding students at the 450-student school pay roughly $62,000 per year. He reportedly intended to follow in the footsteps of his father, who owns Find, a thriving frozen Italian pizza export company, and believed that American education would give him an advantage in the competitive business world. He was set to graduate in May.
Mandia’s uncle in Italy, Pietro Benesatto, told The Daily Beast that Mandia’s parents were met at the airport by a school official who informed them that he had died. The family acknowledged the teen’s death by suicide in a statement released Tuesday by the New Jersey law firm representing them, Bochetto-Lentz.
According to the Mount Pleasant Police Department in Westchester, New York, officers responded to a 911 call at the school on Saturday morning and were directed to a room adjacent to the dorms, where they found Mandia alone. He had died from what appeared to be a hanging. A police official stated a “thorough investigation” into the circumstances surrounding the suicide was underway with the help of the Westchester District Attorney and the E.F. Academy.
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 family “intend to take action” against the school, according to the law firm, although no such case has been filed as of yet, pending full autopsy results, which are not due 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 former classmates in New York released white helium balloons with love notes for her. However, in Italy, former classmates at the Medi Institute in Battipaglia, where he was born, have expressed their anger with their friend’s untimely death, blaming the American system, culture, and school.