SAO PAULO (Reuters) – With all the ingredients of the dramatic “telenovela” soap operas millions of Brazilians watch each night, the murder of 5-year-old Isabella Nardoni has gripped the country and sparked feverish media coverage.
A pretty girl who dreamed of being a ballerina, Isabella was found dead on March 29 after she was apparently thrown from the sixth-floor Sao Paulo apartment where she lived with her father and stepmother.
The father, who says an intruder must have killed Isabella while she was briefly alone in the apartment, and stepmother were detained but released on Friday without charge despite the prosecutor saying their story was a fantasy.
In a country where statistics show a child is killed every 10 hours, many of them black and living in the drug-plagued slums that surround most big cities, the murder of the light-skinned middle-class girl has become a cause celebre.
“Children die every day in Rio and Sao Paulo, but this case is different because it’s playing out like a telenovela and people want to see the next episode,” said Gloria Vanique, a reporter for Brazil’s dominant Globo Television station who was camped outside the police station where the father was held.
Some coverage has drawn a link between the girl’s death and the violence that children suffer every day throughout Brazil that receives little media or police attention.
For the most part, though, the media has focused on the case’s titillating details and suspense over who killed the child. Adding to the drama have been apparent discrepancies in the couple’s versions of events on the night of the murder. Witnesses reported hearing a girl shouting “Stop, Father!”
“The only thing that works in Brazil is the family — the market doesn’t work and the government doesn’t work,” said anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, explaining why the case was so shocking to many. Continued…