Anonymous hate letters sent to a Senegalese migrant teen living in Italy turns out to have been sent by…herself.
A tale of envy, racism and mystery had the Italian media hooked last May when a series of hate-filled letters sent to the daughter of Senegalese migrants brought about a nationwide conversation about racism and roused high-profile figures such as national politicians to pledge solidarity with the girl. The case received so much attention that it prompted one of the country’s Cabinet ministers to visit her school.
A year on from that whirlwind of publicity, the investigation has concluded quietly with the revelation that the girl made the whole thing up.
La Repubblica, an Italian newspaper, reported that the fourteen year old girl’s father alerted the police after the “model student” received six letters filled with racist slurs. The letters told her that she would never realise her dream of becoming a lawyer because she is black, one going on to say: “You are beautiful but unfortunately you were born dirty. You have to go back to your country with your family unlike me, who is purebred.”
The girl’s father said he believed the hate campaign, which also saw torn exercise books and textbooks sent to his daughter, was motivated “half by racism and half by envy” because she had recently excelled in her exams.
For over a week news outlets pored over the racist letters, some even analysing the grammatical structure to speculate what sort of person could have sent the hateful missives. It was reported that the girl’s school held investigatory interviews with her classmates, compared the letters’ handwriting with that of all the other pupils, and the headteacher promised “exemplary punishment” as excuses “would not be enough”.
A few days after the initial report, la Repubblica published an open letter by the young Muslim, who wears a hijab. In it, the fourteen year old conveys enthusiasm for her studies and pledges to work even harder in order to one day achieve her goal of becoming a lawyer.
Speaking out against prejudice, the girl writes that whilst Italians denounce racism, racist behaviour can “eventually jump out of people”. She expresses hope that the culprits of the hate campaign will be identified so she can “look them in the eye” and they can be punished.
There was further intrigue a few days later when the press reported that a new letter had been found, this one mocking the girl for going to the press and declaring that neither she nor the police would ever learn the sender’s identity.
It repeated claims that the Senegalese teenager would never be able to become a lawyer, this time saying “no one is willing to be defended by a black woman”. This seventh letter in the series stated that newspapers covering the episode do not don’t care about the girl’s plight and taunted that “they just want the pennies”.
The mayor of Pisa soon weighed in on the controversy, calling it “unbearable”, and announcing that the whole city is “mobilising for the student”.
Other high profile figures added their voices of support, too, with trade union leader Gianfranco Francese condemning the letters as the “poisoned fruit of racist and xenophobic propaganda”.
But one year on from all of this the furore, the centre-right newspaper Secolo d’Italia has revealed the investigation, conducted by the juvenile justice prosecutor, closed with no one held responsible for the letters.
The girl’s’ classmates’ mobile phone records and social media profiles were examined, and the police even conducted a raid on the school, but what eventually emerged from the investigation is that no third parties were responsible. Experiencing relationship difficulties, the Senegalese girl had apparently orchestrated the hoax for attention, and is now being seen by social services in the municipality to help her “overcome” these issues.