A pair of 19-year-old men from San Francisco have reportedly confessed to the fatal stabbing of a police officer in Italy, following an alleged scuffle over a bag that belonged to a drug dealer.
The suspects have been identified as Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth and Finnegan Lee Elder. As the Associated Press reports from Rome, the two Americans took the bag from a third man whose nationality is not known, apparently because the man sold them a "substance" that was not cocaine. The man then informed police about the stolen bag, after the Americans offered to give it back for a ransom — 100 euros and a gram of cocaine.
According to Reuters, the bag contained a cell phone and a small amount of cash. The owner of the bag called the phone and reached the Americans, who then made the ransom demand.
The most curious detail here is that the man who's being called a drug dealer is the one who called the cops. And the Americans may not have known they were cops when they were approached by two men early Friday at the rendezvous site. They turned out to be plainclothes Carabinieri, or Italian national paramilitary policeman. And one of the Carabinieri, 35-year-old Mario Cerciello Rega, was fatally stabbed in a scuffle over the bag.
CBS News reports that Rega was recently married, and that his funeral will be held Monday in the same church where he was married 43 days ago.
Witnesses and surveillance video reportedly quickly allowed the police to identify the suspects at their nearby hotel, and found them there "ready to leave" Italy, per the AP. A long knife that may have been the murder weapon was found hidden behind a ceiling panel, and police say they also found clothing that the suspects were wearing during the alleged attack.
Cop killings are uncommon in Italy, as Reuters notes, "and politicians of all parties expressed their horror and outrage." And it's somewhat telling in today's anti-immigrant climate in parts of Europe that "Initial media reports suggested the assailants were North Africans."
Elder is reportedly the main suspect, and police say that he confessed to the stabbing after being faced with "hard evidence." Hjorth is being accused of "using his bare hands to strike the officer’s partner, who wasn’t seriously injured in the attack," per the AP. Both men appear to have legal representation and are being held in an jail in Rome as of Saturday.