By Travis Fedschun
Published July 31, 2019
The father of one of the two American teens jailed in the fatal stabbing of an Italian police officer said Wednesday his son is "distraught" over what happened the night the officer was slain, but that he was not aware that a friend was armed at the time.
In an exclusive statement to Fox News, Fabrizio Natale said that he visited his son, Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, on Wednesday morning at the Regina Coeli Detention facility which was "very emotional."
"Gabriel is distraught with what happened and cannot come to terms with it," Natale said in a statement to Fox News. "We are deeply upset by his predicament while at the same time convinced of his innocence."
San Francisco teens Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Natale-Hjorth, 18, are suspected of fatally stabbing 35-year-old Vice Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega 11 times last Friday. At a Tuesday press conference, Italian police displayed the weapon the teens allegedly used: a 7-inch Ka-Bar developed for U.S. troops during World War II.
Gen. Francesco Gargaro of Italy's paramilitary Carabinieri police force said the plainclothes police officer had forgotten his gun the night he was fatally stabbed during the confrontation. Gargaro added that even if the officer had been armed, he would not have had time to draw his weapon before he was mortally wounded with a military-style knife.
"In any case, there was no time to use it," Gargaro said.
Cerciello Riga and a partner, Andrea Varriale, were assigned to respond to an extortion attempt involving a failed drug deal, Gargaro said. Thieves had demanded money and cocaine in exchange for returning a stolen backpack, according to Gargaro.
The officers were in plainclothes and identified themselves as Carabinieri as they approached two suspects, but were immediately attacked, Gargaro said. Police have said Elder is suspected of being the one who stabbed Cerciello Rega while Natale-Hjorth is suspected of assaulting the other officer.
Natale told Fox News that his son "never imagined" there would be a confrontation and did not know that his friend was armed.
"He only became aware of what actually happened after his arrest," he said in a statement.
The father added that his son is "just a teenager" who started college last year hoping to become an architect.
"He is devastated by the carabinieri’s death and I for one as a father painfully feel his family’s grief," Natale said
The young Americans' treatment by authorities in Rome became an issue Sunday after Italian newspapers published a photograph of Natale-Hjorth sitting in a police department room with his eyes blindfolded and his hands cuffed behind his back. Prosecutor Michele Prestipino said the blindfolding - a violation of Italian law - was being investigated to determine which Carabinieri officer was responsible for it and how the photo was leaked to the newspapers.
"I will refrain from commenting on the treatment to which Gabriel was subjected during his arrest,” his father told Fox News. “I understand the Italian authorities have initiated an inquest and I trust they will ascertain any responsibilities."
The mother of the other American teen jailed said Wednesday she's "heartbroken" at the officer's death. Private Italian TGCom24 ran an interview with the mother of Elder, who, along with friend Natale-Hjorth, is under investigation for the slaying of the officer.
TGCom24 interviewed Elder's mother, identified as Leah Elder, at the entrance to the family's San Francisco home. She said, "we are just heartbroken at the loss of life." Leah Elder said she doesn't know Natale-Hjorth well. She added that the teens' travel plans "came together at the last minute."
During his interrogation, Elder told authorities he stabbed Cerciello Rega because he feared he was being strangled, the judge said while noting in her ruling the teen didn't have any marks on his neck.
The two graduated from the same high school north of San Francisco in 2018. Both had just finished a first year at different community colleges in Southern California.
Fox News' Amy Kellogg, Bradford Betz, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.