Two American teenagers arrested in stabbing death of Italian police officer

ROME – Two American teenagers have reportedly confessed to stabbing and killing an Italian police officer who was investigating the theft of a bag after a drug deal gone wrong in Rome.

Italian media reported that a detention order was issued for the suspects, identified as Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth and Lee Elder Finnegan. They are said to have both been born in San Francisco in 2000, Fox News reported.

The pair of teens are accused of killing Carabinieri paramilitary officer Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, who was reportedly stabbed multiple times.

two American teenagers

Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, was stabbed to death in Rome early Friday, July 26, 2019. Italian police said Saturday that two 19-year-old American tourists have confessed to fatally stabbing the Italian paramilitary police officer who was investigating the theft of a bag with a cellphone. (Carabinieri)

The American teens—believed to be 19—reportedly snatched a drug dealer’s bag with the phone and cash after he swindled them by giving them aspirin instead of the cocaine they sought, according to reports. The owner of the bag called his phone and one of the thieves allegedly offered to sell the bag back to him for 100 euros ($112).

After they agreed to meet for the exchange, the alleged drug dealer called police.

Two plainclothes paramilitary police officers arrived at the scene of the meeting around 3 a.m.

During a scuffle, Rega was stabbed 8 times. As a result, he was transported to the hospital where he died a short time later. The deceased officer had recently returned from his honeymoon.

two American teenagers

Lee Elder Finnegan (left) and Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth (right) are accused of fatally stabbing an Italian police officer after a drug deal gone wrong. (Polizia Di Stato)

According to prosecutors, Finnegan is the main suspect, accusing him of fatally stabbing Rega. Meanwhile, Hjorth is accused of using his bare hands to strike the officer’s partner, who wasn’t seriously injured in the attack.

The Carabinieri said video surveillance cameras and witnesses allowed them to quickly identify the two Americans and find them in a hotel near the scene of the homicide. Police said the pair were “ready to leave” Italy when they were found.

In their hotel room, police found a long knife—possibly the one used to attack Rega—hidden behind the panel in the room’s ceiling. Law enforcement authorities also said they found clothes the two purportedly wore during the attack.

The Carabinieri statement said the two Americans admitted responsibility after being questioned by prosecutors and faced with “hard evidence.”

“It was me, but I didn’t think he was a policeman,” Finnegan reportedly told investigators. “I was afraid of being cheated again.”

Moreover, both suspects are being investigated for attempted extortion.

Finnegan’s lawyer, Francesco Codini, told the Associated Press that his client exercised his right not to respond to questions during a detention hearing held Saturday in the Rome jail where the two teens are being held. Hjorth’s lawyer wasn’t immediately available for comment.

People who knew him described Rega as generous and kind. The deceased officer regularly escorted ailing people to a religious shrine in the town of Loreto, his station commander, Sandro Ottaviani, told reporters. His funeral will take place on Monday.

Authorities said the suspected drug dealer has not been caught.


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