Italian police say two American teens visiting Italy were captured on CCTV security footage running away from a gruesome crime scene in Rome, Italy, that left a newlywed police officer dead.
Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, and 19-year-old Finnegan Lee Elder, both of San Fransisco, were spotted fleeing the scene after 35-year old Carabinieri officer Mario Cerciello Rega died from 11 stab wounds on Friday.
Authorities later found “overwhelming evidence” inside the teens’ hotel room in the Prati neighborhood of Rome, according to ABC7, which reportedly included bloody clothing and the hidden murder weapon.
How do you protect your children from predators? Join Nancy Grace and a team of world-class experts for the online course ‘Justice Nation: Crime Stops Here’.
Both teens were later detained, while one was apparently blindfolded and handcuffed. The viral photo made its way across social media, prompting Italian authorities to issue a statement indicating they were in the wrong for covering the suspect’s eyes.
The New York Times reports that both teens admitted they were in an altercation with Rega.
According to police, the suspects bought drugs from an Italian man on Friday, after a man identified as Sergio Brugiatelli led the “blonde youth,” identified as Natale-Hjorth, to a drug dealer while Elder sat on a bench close to Brugiatelli’s backpack.
The teens reportedly claimed the drugs “weren’t real.” In turn, Elder allegedly grabbed Brugiatelli’s backpack with his cellphone inside and fled. When the man called his phone, one of the teens answered and demanded “100 euros and a gram of cocaine” for the return of the backpack.
The pair reportedly arranged to meet Brugiatelli and exchange the backpack for money and drugs, but unbeknownst to them, the man called the police and reported the alleged theft. When the suspects showed to up the arranged meeting place, Rega was there with the backpack, along with his partner, officer Andrea Varriale.
A fight apparently broke out and the officer was left with multiple, fatal stab wounds.
According to CBS, Elder, who appeared in court on Monday, told Italian Judge Chiara Gallo that Rega was strangling him and he acted in self-defense. The teen also reportedly said he didn’t know Rega was an officer and thought he was Brugiatelli’s friend.
Elder said Rega never identified himself but Varriale said both teens attacked them before they had a chance.
“But the pair, even before we could carry out any kind of check, attacked us physically,” Varriale reportedly said.
Natale-Hjorth reportedly claimed he didn’t see his friend stab Rega. He allegedly said he returned to the hotel and took a nap, and Elder later told him he used a knife on the officer when he woke up.
Both suspects were charged with murder and denied bond. They’re being held at the Regina Coeli prison and could face life in prison if convicted.
Meanwhile, Rega was laid to rest on Monday in the same church he got married at. The newlywed had been married a little over a month before the tragedy occurred. The crowd of mourners grew larger than the church could accommodate. Numerous people lined up outside the church to mourn the beloved officer.
The story continues to develop. Check back with CrimeOnline as additional details become available.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Here is a related episode. Here is our latest episode.
[Feature Photo: Finnegan Elder (L) and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth (R)/Police Handout]