One of the two American teens implicated in the stabbing death of an Italian police officer as part of a drug deal gone wrong has been identified as Santa Barbara City College student Gabriel Natale-Hjorth. School officials acknowledged Natale-Hjorth was enrolled at City College last year but stated there are no records indicating his alleged accomplice, Finnegan Lee Elder, was also enrolled. Both have been implicated in the murder of 35-year-old Police Officer Mario Rega on July 26 in Rome. Images of Natale-Hjorth — shown blindfolded — have been saturating media coverage of the case. These images have raised questions about the extent to which his and Elder’s confessions may have been the product of duress under interrogation.
According to initial reports, Natale-Hjorth and Elder — who both attended Tamalpais High School in Marin County — were ripped off while trying to buy cocaine in Rome. Instead of the actual drug, the two youths were given crushed-up aspirin. In response, the two stole a backpack from their putative drug dealer, causing Officer Mario Rega to chase after the two Americans. For his efforts, Rega was stabbed 11 times. Rega had been married less than two months prior to his murder.
Natale-Hjorth and Elder have reportedly confessed to their involvement in the crime, but each has reportedly sought to place more responsibility on the other. Authorities contend Elder did the actual stabbing.
Initial media accounts indicated that Elder also attended City College. School officials issued a statement decrying the killing as “tragic and devastating.” Under Italian law, the two could be held up to a year without charges being filed. According to initial media reports, Natale-Hjorth played lacrosse for his high school lacrosse team. According to interviews conducted by other news outlets, he was reportedly rough around the edges, involved in drugs, and when high, given to serious anger outbursts.