Two teenage American tourists were arrested in Rome over the weekend for murder and attempted extortion in connection to the fatal stabbing of a military police officer, the New York Times reports.
According to Italian officials, 19-year-old Finnegan Lee Elder and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth, 18, killed Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega after he attempted to seize a backpack the boys had been suspected of stealing.
Police say the men were purchasing cocaine, or so they thought, in the district of Trastevere in central Rome on Friday morning. Upon snorting the drugs, the Americans quickly realized the powder was aspirin, which prompted them to return to the square to seek out the man who sold them the fake substance, according to surveillance footage.
Once they encountered the man who referred them to the dealer, Elder and Hjorth stole his backpack which contained his cellphone. Shortly thereafter, the alleged pusher called his mobile, which the two Americans answered and demanded “100 euros and a gram of cocaine” in exchange for its return. The victim of the burglary then scheduled to meet the tourists near the hotel where they were staying, and informed the Carabinieri police force of the plan.
One of the officers who arrived in plain clothes, Cerciello, approached Elder and Hjorth to question them about their drug purchase when a fight ensued. Officials say the teens punched and kicked Cerciello before Elder stabbed the officer eight times with a large knife.
Initial reports falsely implicated two North African migrants in the crime before video footage showed Elder and Hjorth fleeing the scene with the stolen bag in hand at around 2 a.m. On Saturday, the Americans were arrested at the Hotel Meridien Visconti where police officers discovered the murder weapon and the clothes they were wearing hidden in the ceiling of their room.
"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," the Carabinieri press office said.
Elder's family released a statement in response to the senseless killing. “We are shocked and dismayed at the events that have been reported,” it read. “We write as a family to express our deepest condolences to the grieving family and community that loved Brigadier Cerciello Rega.”
Cerciello Rega had just returned to duty after celebrating his honeymoon. His funeral is being held on Monday in his hometown of Somma Vesuviana, in the church where he and his wife were married just two months ago.