About six years ago, more than half a dozen families in Buenos Aires accused a preschool music teacher of molesting their children. In 2010, the teacher, Marcelo Fabián Pecollo, was sentenced to 30 years in prison on charges of sexually abusing five of the children, ages 3 to 5.
But four years later, his sentence was reduced, and he was released from prison, local Argentine media outlets reported. He joined a local orchestra group as a trumpeter.
In late October, Pecollo, 42, was playing the trumpet mid-concert in a church in the suburb of Morón when a mob of angry parents stormed in.
“There is a pedophile and a rapist in the church and he is playing in this orchestra!” they yelled, according to witnesses in the church that day, Oct. 30.
He tried to run away, escaping through a door behind the church’s altar, but they blocked him in a passageway, beating him and thrusting him against the wall until he bled from the mouth. Some witnesses claimed he was even struck with his own trumpet, AFP reported.
Pecollo was hospitalized for grave injuries — later falling into a coma — and died last week, Argentine police confirmed to The Washington Post. The priest in the church that day, Jorge Oesterheld, told local media outlets the attackers were outraged parents of children who attended the nearby preschool where Pecollo used to teach music classes.
“I think they came to kill him,” Oesterheld told one television station. “If there hadn’t been people that defended him, and that left injured for defending him, they would have killed him there, behind the altar.”
Authorities arrived at the scene — as the police station is only a block away from the church — but the crowd of assailants had already left the area. Police continue to investigate and have not yet arrested any people in connection to the beatings. Upon Pecollo’s death, the case’s category was changed from “injuries” to “homicide.” The autopsy results had not yet been released by mid-Wednesday, Argentine police said.
When they arrived at the church, the group of demonstrators hung posters on church property and wore T-shirts with the words, “With the children, no!” a rallying phrase used by local residents to protest Pecollo’s actions and his shortened prison sentence.
By the time the priest reached Pecollo, the attackers had already left. Oesterheld stayed with the bruised, injured man until the police and ambulance arrived, he said. Pecollo has been playing as a member of the orchestra since late last year as a substitute, and earned a position in May, local media outlet Infobae reported. A member of the group, who also witnessed the attack, told Infobae the orchestra members did not know about Pecollo’s criminal record.
The priest publicly condemned the beating, saying the parents “took justice into their own hands, but it was revenge, it was murder.”
“The boys not only suffered the abuse but now have their parents involved in a suspicion of murder,” he added. “Really, if we think about those kids, it’s a nightmare.”
The sex abuse allegations against Pecollo first came to light in 2007, when a mother complained that her 4-year-old son had been abused by his music teacher, Pecollo. Six other cases were reported to the authorities, and the court recognized five of the seven cases in the trial. According to complaints from several parents, the teacher organized a game for his class called “al que le toca, le toca,” which translates roughly to “whoever’s turn it is gets touched.” On other occasions, boys in the class reported the teacher would lower his pants in front of the students and inappropriately touched some of the boys.
At one point, when Pecollo was under house arrest before being convicted and sentenced, a group of parents burned his house in anger.
Some Argentines tweeted and posted on Facebook in solidarity with the parents in recent days, applauding their attempts to seek justice. Others reluctantly admitted they would likely do the same, if they were in the parents’ positions.
“Justice does not work like this, but if they touched my daughter I think I would have done the same thing,” one father wrote.
Still, scores of Twitter users expressed outrage and shame at the fatal beating. A lawyer who had represented the families in the initial child sex abuse cases spoke out to local journalists and on Facebook, scolding the actions of the attackers, “as a citizen and man of law.”
“Having been a lawyer for one of his victims, I have to reproach that despicable attitude that I will never share,” he wrote. “When justice determines and resolves something, like it or not, it should be respected.”
Those who knew Pecollo wrote of their grief and anger following his death.
“You have always been respectful and you have taught us values,” one woman wrote. “I would love to come back and give you a big hug.”
As authorities continue to investigate the fatal beating of the musician, they are left with difficulties gathering evidence, Infobae reported. Pecollo’s trumpet, for example, is nowhere to be found.
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