Town grapples with death of 10-year-old from the flu
NEW CANAAN — Nico Mallozzi made himself known everywhere he went.
A fourth-grader at West School, the 10-year-old was known by students, staff and administrators for doing the afternoon announcements, according to New Canaan Superintendent Bryan Luizzi. When he wasn’t at school, Nico spent every day at the SoNo Ice House, where his presence was as known as a member of the Connecticut RoughRiders as part of the 07 RoughRiders, said Ryan Hughes, the rink’s founder and managing partner.
“He will be missed,” said George Comesana-Vila, who works at the pro shop at the SoNo Ice House. “I knew him for a good eight years and he was a force. He’s going to leave a big space to fill. I only just laced his skates last Wednesday.”
Nico was by all accounts healthy when he went with his hockey team to the Cup North American Championship in Buffalo, N.Y., over Martin Luther King Day weekend, according to Dr. David Reed, director of health in New Canaan. However, the 10-year-old didn’t play after coming down with the flu.
Nico did not participate in the tournament and when his condition worsened, he was taken to the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo. Reed said his family decided to return home Sunday, but only made it as far as the Catskills region before Nico took a turn for the worse. He was taken to a New York hospital, where he was later that day confirmed dead.
Reed said the New York Medical Examiner’s Office determined the flu, complicated by pneumonia, led to sepsis, which was the cause of death.
Nico’s death has elicited strong reactions from New Canaan residents and members of the hockey community.
New Canaan schools conducted a private gathering at West School on Monday to support parents, student and staff affected by the death. Afterwards, many mourners attended a small service at St. Aloysius Parish held in wake of the tragedy. According to the St. Aloysius Facebook page, Nico was a religious education student there.
“We had a good number of parents, students and staff come in to be there for one another, love one another and show support,” Luizzi said.
The New Canaan superintendent said he sent an email to district parents and had clinical staff available for students when classes resumed on Tuesday.
“We’ve got students as young as kindergarten and first grade who’ll feel the loss,” Luizzi said, adding the district’s main focus was supporting students, as well as Nico’s family, which includes siblings at West and Saxe Middle School.
The schools have been reacting to the cause of Nico’s death, especially in the wake of what the town’s health director said is one of the “worst flu seasons.” The district sent an email to parents Monday night about the precautions being taken to prevent other students from falling ill.
According to the email, custodians performed extra cleanings of buildings and will continue to do so for the next several months.
Reed said Nico and his brother tested positive for Type B flu. He recommended anyone exposed to this strain should consider asking their doctor for Tamiflu, an antiviral drug.
“If you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated now,” he said. “The flu season varies every year, but a vaccine can mitigate the symptoms.”
The rink where Nico spent many hours playing hockey is also taking precautions. The Connecticut RoughRiders posted a message on Tuesday, asking players not to share water bottles, keep their gloves on during handshake lines and not attend practice if they’re experiencing flu symptoms.
“We always went by the book and by what the state said regarding the cleanliness of the rink,” Hughes said. “We’re reiterating to people about taking extra precautions and for people to get their flu shots.”
The community at the rink is feeling the loss of Nico, remembered for his energy.
“I could spend hours talking about what kind of kid he was,” said Tomasz Piateck, Nico’s 07 RoughRiders coach. “He was quite a character — always smiling, always happy, always on the rink and running around with the other kids.”
Piateck said Nico, who was the third of four children, joined the hockey team four years ago at the age of 6, after watching his older brother play in the organization’s upper divisions.
“He was a strong kid, a great athlete, and whatever position I needed him to be, he would play,” Piatek said. "Whenever I needed him, he was there.”
The Connecticut RoughRiders Hockey Club, where Nico played with the 2007 team, announced on its website that a grief counselor would be available for parents, players and coaches on Tuesday.
The hockey community has taken steps to help the Mallozzi family during this time. According to a tweet from Xavier High School Headmaster Dave Eustis, there was to be a moment of silence in Nico’s honor at the New Canaan/Xavier game on Tuesday.
A GoFundMe effort for the Nico Mallozzi Memorial Fund raised more than $130,000 in a day-and-a-half. A statement from the Mallozzi family on the site expressed gratitude for the support.
“He was the heart and soul of the rink,” said Dale Derosa, rink manager. “Everyone knew him. He could have run this place himself. The Mallozzi family is wonderful and was always around the rink. The hockey community is strong in its support and an amazing one at that — you just have to look at the GoFundMe to see that.”
Staff writer Kat Russell contributed to this report.