Two teenagers from California have been arrested in Rome, Italy, and charged with the murder of a police officer, according to the Carabinieri police force.
Christian Gabriel Natale Hjorth and Elder Finnegan Lee, both 19 years old from San Francisco, California, were arrested by Italian law enforcement authorities on Friday for “the crime of aggravated murder and attempted extortion” after the fatal stabbing of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega on Friday morning, according to CNN.
“They were already ready to leave the country,” police said in a statement. “During the search of the hotel room, which was occupied by the two detainees, the murder weapon was found and seized, a knife of considerable size, cleverly hidden behind a ceiling panel, as well as the clothes worn during the crime.“
Italian police said surveillance footage and witness testimonies were able to connect the two young Americans to the “heinous crime,” which officials said occurred in the Prati neighborhood of Rome, close to the hotel where Hjorth and Lee were staying on vacation, according to the statement.
“The two, once at the station, were interrogated by the Carabinieri, under the direction of the magistrates of the Public Prosecutor of Rome, in the face of overwhelming evidence, they confessed to the charge,” police said.
The statement also claimed that Hjorth and Lee had stolen an Italian citizen’s backpack shortly before killing Officer Rega, and held the backpack ransom after answering the cellphone within it and demanding “100 euros and 1 gram of cocaine” in order to return it.
ABC News reported that according to the Carabinieri’s press statement, two young men had been looking for drugs and were sold a fake substance. Police told the news outlet that they believe the man whose bag was stolen may have pointed the two in the direction to procure the drugs, but was not involved in the actual drug deal.
After the victim went to police regarding the stolen backpack, Rega and another officer met the two Americans, pretending to be the backpack’s owners, before identifying themselves as the police.
That’s when both teens “did not hesitate to engage in a scuffle which culminated in the tragic deadly wounding of Mario Rega Cerciello,” the police statement read, according to CNN.
Italy’s far-right interior minister, Matteo Salvini, tweeted a tribute to the slain officer early Friday morning, just after Officer Rego was pronounced dead.
Mario, un carabiniere, un eroe, un ragazzo con tutta la vita davanti, era sposato da appena 40 giorni... pic.twitter.com/r2qY9bRecw— Matteo Salvini (@matteosalvinimi) July 26, 2019
“Mario, a police officer, a hero, a boy with all his life ahead of him, who had been married for just 40 days,” he wrote on Twitter in Italian. “How much sadness, how much anger. A prayer, a hug to his loved ones.”
According to CBS News, Officer Rega will be buried Monday at his funeral.
The investigation into the officer’s death is ongoing.