Relatives of some of those killed in an alleged crime syndicate vendetta exported to Germany wore white on Thursday to the funerals in this mob stronghold as a sign they hoped the decades-old feud would end.
The bodies of three of the six victims arrived late on Thursday in San Luca, a bleak town in the rugged Aspromonte mountains of southern Calabria. Investigators say San Luca is a power base of the 'ndrangheta, a crime syndicate they believe has eclipsed the Sicilian Mafia in power and reach, thanks to its control of Europe's multibillion-euro cocaine market.
Standing out in a crowd of women dressed in black were several family members in white T-shirts. Local clergy said the relatives decided to wear them to send a signal of reconciliation to the feuding clans.
Among those wearing white outside the church as they waited for the bodies to arrive were the parents of Francesco Giorgi and Sebastiano Strangio, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.
Hundreds poured into St. Mary of Pity church for the service, with Giorgi's sister, Elisa, the church choir director, playing the organ for the service, which began at 8pm, ANSA reported.
The San Luca funeral also included the third victim, Marco Marmo, who investigators suspect was the main target of the massacre on Aug. 15 outside a Duisburg, Germany, restaurant.
"I do not want vendetta, but truth and justice," Marmo's mother, Antonia Giorgi, said in a message that was read aloud during the funeral, ANSA said. "Prayer will bring justice."
Police pressed close to the pallbearers and the crowd applauded in a traditional sign of respect for the dead as the three coffins were carried by men out of the San Luca church well after nightfall.
Hours earlier, paramilitary police guarded a church in another Calabrian town, Siderno, some 30km northeast of San Luca, during the funeral for two young brothers who were among those gunned down shortly after they left the Italian restaurant, where they had celebrated the 18th birthday of one of the victims.
As a hot, scirocco breeze from Africa blew across Siderno, wailing relatives threw themselves on the coffins of Francesco Pergola, 21, and Marco Pergola, 19. Leaving the church, mourners tossed red roses onto the square outside St. Mary of the Safe Port church.
The square was kept empty by authorities who feared more violence between the feuding Pelle-Romeo and Nirta-Strangio crime clans.
Prosecutors have described the feud as a reflection of ruthless determination by 'ndrangheta clans to expand control of the European cocaine market as well as of long-simmering bad blood between the families.
The syndicate is alleged to run extortion and loan-sharking rackets, and arms and drug trafficking. Since the 1990s, the 'ndrangheta has largely abandoned kidnappings for ransom for Europe's multibillion-dollar cocaine market, investigators say.
After the funeral, police blocked journalists from entering the cemetery. Fearing fresh mob violence, security officials decided on Wednesday evening to ban the procession that traditionally accompanies the hearse to the cemetery.
The mother of the Pergola brothers, Maria Pergola, knelt on the steps and kissed her son's photograph pasted to the coffin, which was blanketed with white roses. A priest hugged her as she left the church weeping, her husband at her side.