Italy

7-year-old killed while on vacation, his parents donating his organs inspire a country

October 1, 1994
Messina, Italy
Nicholas Green dies after being shot in the head while on vacation

Nicholas and his family had been vacationing in Italy when, on September 29, a car began following theirs. It was theorized the second car had mistaken the Greens’ car for that of a jeweler and attempted to rob the family. They pulled next to the Greens and shouted in Italian, and as the Greens did not speak or understand Italian, Nicholas’ father Reginald sped up. The pursuing car then fired at the Greens. Reginald sped up a second time and the attackers gave up. It was then that Margaret Green, Nicholas’ mother, noticed 7-year-old Nicholas had been shot in the head. Nicholas’ younger sister Eleanor was unharmed and still sleeping.

The Greens raced to the nearest hospital, though it was not equipped to handle the extent of Nicholas’ injuries. He was transferred to another hospital and admitted into a head trauma specialist unit, but was pronounced dead on October 1. His parents decided to donate Nicholas’ organs, with five patients receiving major organs (his heart, liver, kidneys, and pancreas) and two receiving his corneas. The recipient of Nicholas’ heart died in 2017, 23 years after the transplant.

Two men were arrested in November 1994, though they were not convicted due to Reginald being unable to identify them (the assailants had been wearing masks, both parties were driving, and it was dark at the time). A year later, however, they were retried, with no additional evidence, and sentenced: one to 20 years and the other to life.

In 1994, Italy had less than a quarter of the number of homicides as the United States, with 2.3 murders per 100,000 people in Italy and 9.5 per 100,000 in the US. (In 2015, both numbers were down, with the US at 4.9 per 100,000 and Italy at 0.77 per 100,000.) The British newspaper The Times noted about the case: “The killing of a seven-year-old American boy in a country where violent death is commonplace has plunged Italy into national soul-searching.”

At the time, Italy also had one of the lowest rates of organ transplants in Europe. With the Green family donating their murdered son’s organs, awareness and donations increased significantly; since Nicholas’ death, organ donation in Italy has tripled. In addition, multiple memorials have been erected in his honor and schools named for him.

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