The authorities' investigations are continuing after the horrifying bloody act in the town of Altavilla Milicia, east of Palermo. On Sunday night, the suspected perpetrator, 54-year-old bricklayer Giovanni B., alerted the carabinieri himself and called them to his house. There the investigators found the man's four and 16-year-old sons, whom he is said to have strangled with an iron chain on Friday, according to previous investigations.

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.

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    A short time later, the charred body of the alleged perpetrator's 41-year-old wife was found under a pile of earth on a property near the family's home. The woman is said to have been killed by her husband a few days earlier. The 17-year-old daughter was found in a room in the family home, in a shocked and confused state. On Monday, a couple who were friends of the bricklayer's family were arrested on suspicion of inciting the man to kill his wife and two sons.

    “A family man like everyone else”

    The background to the crime is said to have been an obscure exorcism ritual. As Italian media reported, the surviving daughter said her father said he had to “cast out demons” from the family and their home. The circumstances of the wife's death are still unclear. The man is said to have strangled the two sons with the iron chain. The body of one of the boys was said to have still been in chains when the carabinieri began investigating the house.

    Apparently several animals were put to death before or during the killing in order to drive out supposed demons. The carcasses of the killed animals were found near the charred body of the suspected perpetrator's wife.

    The pastor of an evangelical church in Altavilla Milicia, which the bricklayer's family had frequented in recent years, denied any connection to the massacre. Although the family used to regularly attend church services at the Free Church, contact was broken after the church was temporarily no longer allowed to hold services in 2020 at the behest of the authorities due to pandemic protection measures. During this time, the bricklayer apparently came into contact with the couple as well as with a self-proclaimed preacher, healer and exorcist from Bari in Apulia via social media.

    This person was never in any way connected to the evangelical church in Altavilla Milicia, but "led a satanic sect," says a statement from the pastor of the free church, which was distributed by the Italian media on Monday. The alleged perpetrator, who joined the evangelical church with his family in 2019, never said anything strange and never raised his hand against his children until he left the free church during the pandemic lockdown.

    Giovanni B. was “a family man like everyone else” who “went about his work,” says the pastor’s statement: “Those responsible should be punished for their actions according to the laws of the state and the laws of God.” The The Evangelical Free Church in Altavilla Milicia is apparently not yet the subject of investigations into the background to the bloody crime.