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[whitespace] School, cops moved fast in rescue of tortured boy

Sunnyvale--The case that shocked the city last week--in which a14-year old child was allegedly dragged from school by a parent and later found in a locked room bound, beaten and gagged--could have ended worse, if not for the coordinated efforts of local authorities.

"The unusual part is that the child was bound and gagged after he was beaten and then beaten after he was bound. It is quite unusual," says Katherine Lucero, Deputy District Attorney.

Against that dark background, Dr. Tom Sutkus, the principal of Sunnyvale Middle School--the campus from which the boy was taken--sees some hope in the community's response to the case.

"I'm delighted with how well the system worked this time," he says. "I believe because of that we were able to address the issue very, very quickly."

Police became involved with the case after being notified by the school. The boy's stepfather, Robert Panuncialman, allegedly grabbed the child while he was sitting on a campus bench near the sixth-grade area of the middle school before class had begun. According to witnesses, the boy had trouble breathing in the man's grip. Sutkus says several students and staffers took down the license plate of the car in which the two left and called police.

"The school did a great job in calling us immediately," Eaneff says. "They did exactly what they're supposed to do."

Sutkus says that students at Sunnyvale are taught that violence against them--even by a parent--is wrong.

"Our children are taught that nobody has a right to hurt them," he says. "All of our kids are taught refusal skills."

When police officers arrived at the boy's home, they found him bound hand-and-foot with belts and gagged with a sock, according to a report from the District Attorney's office. Lucero says the boy had welts, scratches and a swollen eye--the result of punching--and was bleeding from both nostrils.

Lucero also says there were other scars that appeared to be the result of previous beatings.

Panuncialman, along with the boy's mother, Elizabeth Panuncialman, were arrested and charged with torture, felony child abuse, and child endangerment. At press time, both were being held on $250,000 bail.

A torture conviction carries with it a life sentence. The child was taken to the hospital and released to protective custody.

Sutkus says that because the attack took place before school hours, only a few schoolmates, mostly six-graders, witnessed the violence.

Counselors have been on hand and the county has offered additional assistance.

The case goes to court November 30, when pleas will be filed.
Sam Scott

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Web extra to the December 2-8, 1999 issue of Metro.

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