HOUSTON – Police and family members said a 10-year-old boy who died by hanging himself from a bunk bed was apparently mimicking the execution of former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.
Sergio Pelico was found dead Sunday in his apartment bedroom in the Houston-area city of Webster, said Webster police Lt. Tom Claunch. Pelico's mother told police he had previously watched a news report on Saddam's death.
"It appears to be accidental," Claunch said. "Our gut reaction is that he was experimenting."
An autopsy of the fifth-grader's body was pending.
Julio Gustavo, Sergio's uncle, said the boy was a happy and curious child.
He said Sergio had watched TV news with another uncle on Saturday and asked the uncle about Saddam's death.
"His uncle told him it was because Saddam was real bad," Gustavo said. "He [Sergio] said, 'OK.' And that was it."
Sergio's mother, Sara Pelico DeLeon, was at work Sunday while Sergio and other children were under the care of an uncle, Gustavo said. One of the children found Sergio's body in his bedroom.
Police said the boy had tied a slipknot around his neck while on a bunk bed. Police investigators learned that Sergio had been upset about not getting a Christmas gift from his father, but they don't believe the boy intentionally killed himself.
Clinical psychologist Edward Bischof, of California, said children Sergio's age mimic risky behaviors they see on TV — such as wrestling or extreme sports — without realizing the dangers. He said TV appeared to be the stimulant in Sergio's case.
"I would think maybe this kid is trying something that he thinks fun to act out without having the emotional and psychological maturity to think the thing through before he acts on it," Bischof said.
Family members held a memorial for the boy Wednesday in the apartment complex activity center. Gustavo said the family is trying to put together enough money to send Sergio's body to Guatemala for burial.
"I don't think he thought it was real," Gustavo said of Saddam's hanging. "They showed them putting the noose around his neck and everything. Why show that on TV?"