A young migrant cries where Father Roberto Malgesini was stabbed to death in Como on September 15, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/Matteo Bazzi
A young migrant cries where Father Roberto Malgesini was stabbed to death in Como on September 15, 2020 | Photo: ANSA/Matteo Bazzi

Italy is in shock after Father Roberto Malgesini was stabbed to death on September 15. The priest was well known in the northern Italian city of Como for his work helping immigrants and the homeless. The alleged killer, a Tunisian man with mental health problems, turned himself in to the police after the attack.

A crowd of people who knew the 51-year-old priest gathered in Piazza San Rocco -- the square where he was killed -- to honor him. Father Roberto Malgesini's grey Fiat panda was still parked in front of his home, packed with all the breakfasts he was supposed to serve to the homeless on the day he was killed. The priest, known locally as the "priest of the humble," started his mornings by serving food to the needy.

A young Senegalese immigrant, Khadija, rushed to the church in tears, wearing a long and colorful dress. But when she saw the journalists and photographers she left and came back ten minutes later, wearing a sober black dress. "I went to buy it from a store close nearby; the way I was dressed before seemed disrespectful," she said. "Father Roberto helped me a lot, I have a good job now; I have no idea what I would have ended up doing without him."

Erik, a 23-year-old Ghanaian man, also said the priest had also helped him. He was injured on the job and said that, "had it not been for Don Roberto, I don't know how I would have survived. I am so in pain today I can't even eat."

Roby, a 50-year-old from Como, who said his nickname is "lone wolf," first met the priest in 1995. ''I was homeless after a divorce and losing my job. He helped me back then and again later when I was lost, until I took my life back into my own hands."

How the killing happened

Roberto Malgesini was stabbed to death in front of his home on the square next to the church at 7 am on Tuesday, allegedly by a 53-year-old Tunisian man.

The man is believed to have waited for Father Roberto in front of his home. Witnesses heard screams, indicating that there could have been a fight before the priest was stabbed repeatedly, including lethally in the neck. The priest collapsed in the square some 20 meters from his home. Emergency services were called but when an ambulance arrived the priest was already dead.

The murder weapon was found in a flowerbed next to the body.

Priest knew suspected murderer

The suspect turned himself in to the Carabinieri police.

Father Roberto knew his alleged killer and had reportedly helped him on a number of occasions. They were on good terms prior to the murder, according to sources who were close to the priest. Nobody saw the murder, according to investigators. The man reportedly lived in a dormitory at the parish church of Sant'Orsola. 

According to the diocese of Como, the man had "mental health problems," but investigators said there were no certificates to confirm a medical condition.

The suspected killer has been living in Italy since 1993 and has been without a stay permit since 2014, when he separated from his Italian wife. He has a criminal record for extortion and domestic abuse and two expulsion orders have been issued against him. The first was suspended after it was appealed while the second was not carried out due to COVID-19 emergency, investigative sources said.

League party comments on murder

The murder has been used by members of the right-wing anti-immigrant League party as an example to promote their anti-migrant agenda. League leader Matteo Salvini said the priest had been "knifed to death by one of the too many illegal immigrants who are irregularly in this country and should instead be sent back home."

Peers of murder victim Malgesini have rejected this narrative. Father Virginio Colemagna of the charity Casa della Carità said that the most vulnerable people "should not be abandoned on the street."

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