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Pope Francis meets with parents of American exchange student who was killed in Rome

Italian police detain a suspect over the death of an American student whose body was found in the Tiber River. (Video: Reuters,

Pope Francis met Wednesday with the grieving parents of an American student whose body was found in a Rome river just hours after the teen arrived in Italy for a summer exchange program.

Francis met privately with Beau Solomon’s parents, who arrived in the Italian capital Monday, the same day their missing son’s body was recovered from the Tiber River. The top Vatican spokesman said the pope expressed his “feelings of deep sympathy and compassion” and “his closeness in prayer to the Lord for the young man who died so tragically,” according to Vatican Radio.

The 19-year-old’s death is being investigated as a murder.

As they prepared to send their son to Rome for summer classes, Solomon’s parents figured they had little to worry about.

Solomon, who had just completed his first year at University of Wisconsin at Madison, was responsible by nature; an athlete who majored in personal finance, he had even taken Italian classes to prepare for his trip, his parents told the Guardian.

There was only one thing that concerned them about their teenager spending six weeks in the Italian capital.

“The only doubts we had were pick-pocketing,” his father told the paper.

The petty crime has long plagued the historic city, but rarely does it lead to serious violence. Now, however, Italian investigators detained a homeless man as they explored whether in Solomon’s case it did.

Within hours of landing in Rome on Thursday, Solomon disappeared after going to a bar, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

“Everything’s so pretty,” he told his mother on his first night out, the paper reported. “It’s so beautiful.”

Family and friends of a 19-year-old study abroad student from Wisconsin who was found murdered in Italy hold a candlelight vigil at his hometown. (Video: Reuters)

Solomon was last seen around 1 a.m. at G Bar in the Trastevere neighborhood, “a picturesque area popular with American students and tourists,” the Guardian reported.

Cole Solomon, 23, said that when his brother’s body pulled Monday from the Tiber River, he had a head wound and a blood-stained shirt — as well as thousands of dollars of illicit charges on his credit cards.

“It’s a murder investigation,” Cole Solomon told the Journal-Sentinel.

Beau Solomon’s wallet and cellphone were missing, suggesting to police that he’d been robbed, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

Italian state TV said about $1,700 was charged to Solomon’s cards at a store in Milan, more than 350 miles away, according to CBS News.

On Tuesday, Italian police announced that they detained a homeless man in connection with Solomon’s death, according to the Associated Press. He was identified as Massimo Galioto, a 40-year-old from Rome.

Galioto told police he got into an argument with Solomon, who was allegedly drunk and staggering at the time, ANSA reported. Galioto told investigators that the teenager slipped over an embankment and plunged into the water, but authorities suspect he pushed Solomon to his death before returning to his tent with a companion and falling asleep, ANSA reported.

Police told ANSA that Solomon was also kicked twice.

Citing ANSA, the AP reported that preliminary autopsy results indicated that Solomon had suffered injuries consistent with a fall.

Galioto — who reportedly has a record for petty crime — is “seriously suspected of murder aggravated by futile motives,” according to the AP.

Police are watching surveillance camera footage, tracking the signal from Solomon’s cellphone and investigating the use of his credit card after it was stolen, CNN reported.

After receiving emergency passports, Solomon’s parents landed in Rome on Monday.

John R. Phillips, the U.S. ambassador to Italy, also released a statement expressing his condolences following news of Solomon’s death.

Solomon was enrolled in a summer program at John Cabot University, an American school located near the center of Rome.

The school released a statement on Monday about the teenager’s death, saying it was “deeply saddened” to announce that Solomon’s body had been recovered in the Tiber River.

“We express our most heartfelt condolences to the Solomon family and to all those who loved Beau,” the statement said.

But the president of the Italian university, Franco Pavoncello, told the AP that while “the school takes maximum measures to keep its students safe on campus and around its residences, using both Italian soldiers and private security forces,” responsibility ultimately fell on local police forces.

“It’s not up to the president of John Cabot University to do an evaluation of the dangers of Rome’s nightlife,” Pavoncello told the AP. “It’s up to judicial authorities.”

University of Wisconsin at Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank released a statement expressing her sadness and noting that the university was working with John Cabot University and American and Italian authorities to support their investigation into Solomon’s death.

“Beau was a bright and caring young man who lived the Wisconsin Idea through his work at Badger Boys State and his desire to travel and experience other cultures,” her statement said.

Originally from Spring Green, Wisc., Solomon was the third of four boys, according to the Journal Sentinel.

In an interview with the paper, Jake Solomon’s described his sibling as “an awesome brother” with “a big heart” and referred to him as the “toughest S.O.B. that we’ve ever met.”

Beau Solomon faced physical challenges early in life, fighting through a rare form of cancer as a child and enduring numerous chemotherapy treatments and surgeries, family members told CBS affiliate WISC-TV.

“He overcame all of that,” Jake Solomon said.

In fact, Beau Solomon became a scholar-athlete and was a “strong-armed” quarterback at River Valley High School, though he wasn’t all-conference or all-state, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

The school district said in a statement that Solomon “was an engaged student who made a meaningful impact at River Valley.” In addition to playing three sports at River Valley High, he graduated with high honors, the district said, and was involved in forensics and student council.

On Monday night, friends and former classmates gathered at River Valley “to grieve and remember Beau Solomon,” the school said, adding: “To honor Beau, we are leaving the lights on tonight at the football field.”

Perhaps due to his affinity for politics, Solomon participated in Badger Boys State Camp, where he worked as a counselor, according to the Journal Sentinel. The intensive one-week summer camp allows teenage boys between their junior and senior years of high school to learn more about government and leadership.

“We celebrate his life and all that he had overcome and accomplished in it,” the camp said on Facebook, adding: “We will miss him very much.”

The teen was close to his family, relatives told the Journal Sentinel, and he planned to become a lawyer.

“He’s loved by everyone, and he’s the glue that keeps our family together,” Solomon told CBS affiliate WISC-TV.

The Solomon brothers were especially close, a close friend, Mike Honer, told the State Journal.

“We’re all hurting,” Honer said, “but it’s nothing compared to what Beau’s brothers are going through.”

This post, originally published on July 5, has been updated. 


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