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June 2, 2008

A Child's Party, A Family's Nightmare

Normally, a child’s birthday party is a time for celebration and joy. In Rhode Island, on May 18, however, one boy’s party turned deadly when a neighborhood dispute escalated into violence.

On that day, James Pagano, a local firefighter, was hosting a birthday party for his young son. During the course of the party, a ball that Pagano’s son and other children were playing with struck a car owned by a neighbor, Nicolas Gianquitti. An argument between Pagano and Gianquitti ensued and the men began to scuffle. Witnesses reported that Gianquitti then fired several shots from a handgun at Pagano, who was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly thereafter. There was confusion as to whether Gianquitti left his house armed, or if he returned inside to retrieve the handgun before shooting Pagano. Gianquitti has been charged with murder and is being held without bail.

Cranston Fire Chief James Gumbley told the media that Pagano, the father of two young children, was well-liked and respected by his co-workers. One neighbor described him as a “great guy, really family-oriented.” A friend called him the most stand-up, reliable friend you could ever know.”

Gianquitti, who served as a Providence police officer for six months during the early 1990s, legally owned the murder weapon and had been licensed to carry a concealed handgun in Rhode Island for fifteen years. From most accounts, he did not get along with his neighbors in Cranston. A former neighbor said that Gianquitti would often complain about balls “banging his cars.” In 2006, he filed a formal complaint with Cranston police about neighborhood kids going on his property. Adriana Pagano, James’ wife, filed her own complaint and was concerned that Gianquitti watched her children play from inside his house. Another neighbor described Gianquitti as “weird” and said that her parents told her younger brother to stay away from the man.

Despite the problems Gianquitti had with his neighbors, there was no indication that he was prone to violence. Before the shooting, Gianquitti possessed a clean criminal record and was legally permitted to carry a concealed handgun. Nor were Gianquitti’s issues with his property or neighbors unique, as many communities experience such conflicts and disagreements.

In almost all cases, however, such conflicts are resolved peacefully—through our legal system if necessary—but without violence. Had a gun not been present, Gianquitti and Pagano’s scuffle probably would have resulted in a simple fistfight. Bodies and egos might have been temporarily bruised and perhaps law enforcement would have been called in to mediate. Instead, Gianquitti’s gunfire has left James Pagano dead and a wife and two young children without the man they love the most. Gianquitti himself now faces a criminal charge that could land him in prison for the rest of his life.

Over kids on a lawn? A scuff mark or dent on a car? Whatever stress or anger Gianquitti was dealing with at the moment, surely it was not worth this.

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