ROME - Two American teenagers have been charged with the alleged killing of an Italian police officer following a drug deal gone wrong. The northern Californians refused to answer questions from the judge who nonetheless decided to keep them in custody. Italy is under shock at the violent killing of the officer.
The two teenagers were staying in a central Rome hotel where police found what they believe is the murder weapon, a long knife that had been hidden in the room's dropped ceiling along with bloody clothes believed to have been worn during the killing.
Nineteen-year-old Finnegan Lee Elder and 18-year-old Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth were high school classmates in the Bay Area of San Francisco and were at the end of their vacation in the Italian capital. Police allege that on Thursday night the two went to buy some drugs in the area of Trastevere in Rome but instead of cocaine they were given a different substance.
Furious that they were tricked by the alleged pusher, investigators say the teenagers went back and stole the drug dealer's bag with cash and a cell phone. Witnesses said they appeared intoxicated with alcohol and drugs.
The man who suffered the theft reportedly called the police saying he had arranged a meeting with the young Americans to get his bag back. He said the Americans had demanded drugs and money to return the bag.
According to the authorities, two officers in plainclothes decided to go to the meeting set up with the young Californians instead of the alleged pusher.
Although the police officers identified themselves as Carabinieri, witnesses said a scuffle ensued with one of the teenagers punching one of the officers and the other drawing a long knife and stabbing the other officer eight times. According to an initial autopsy 35-year-old Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega died of massive loss of blood when he arrived at the hospital.
Investigators say Finnegan Lee Elder, the youngster who allegedly stabbed the policeman, confessed to the killing when he was taken to the police station after their arrest. But both teenagers have refused to answer questions from the preliminary investigations judge who has nonetheless decided they will remain in custody at the Regina Coeli prison in Rome.
They are charged with murder and attempted extortion and the investigation continues.
The body of the killed police officer will lie in repose in a chapel in central Rome Sunday. The funeral will be held Monday in Somma Vesuviana, near Naples.
The town's mayor, Salvatore DI Sarno asked that the "judges be uncompromising because they killed a man like animals."
Others in his hometown are shocked by what happened. The officer, who was known by many, was described as a kind man, an exceptional person who was always ready to help others and was involved in charity work with the homeless.
A man said there are no words to describe the person that he was and how he behaved and how he will always be remembered.
Italians across the country are in disbelief over the violent killing believed to have been carried out by these young men. Killings of Carabinieri police officers are a rare occurrence and authorities have vowed that justice will be done.
The family of Elder, the alleged stabber, issued a statement saying "We are shocked and dismayed at the events that have been reported, but we have very little independent information about these events." They added that they had not had any communication with their son.