Family of slain American gather for funeral

The parents of an American woman found dead in her Florence apartment thanked Italian authorities for having made an arrest in the case as they gathered for her funeral Friday in her adopted Tuscan homeland.

The wooden casket carrying the remains of Ashley Olsen, 35, was brought into the Santo Spirito basilica as family members, friends and her beloved dog Scout filled the pews. Olsen's boyfriend, Italian artist Federico Fiorentini, entered holding a bouquet of flowers and held Scout on his lap during the service.

Fiorentini discovered Olsen's body Jan. 9 after he asked Olsen's landlord to let him into her apartment because he hadn't heard from her in several days. Prosecutors say she was killed a day earlier by a Senegalese man she met at a disco, after a night of cocaine-fueled sex followed by a fight.

The suspect, Cheik Tidiane Diaw, acknowledged to investigators that he had pushed Olsen twice to the ground after she pushed him in an attempt to try to get him to leave her apartment. But he said he never strangled her and left her alive on her bed, according to his lawyer, Antonio Voce.

In the statement, the Olsens thanked Italian authorities "for their swift apprehension of the perpetrator."

"Our deepest affections go to Ashley's many friends and to the community of San Frediano that she dearly loved," they added, referring to the Florence neighborhood where Olsen lived.

The retired bishop of Orvieto, Monsignor Giovanni Scanavino, was leading the funeral Mass in the Santo Spirito basilica in the Florentine piazza of the same name, a favorite hang-out spot for Olsen, her friends and Scout.

She was to be buried later in a Florentine cemetery. Family attorney Maria Gallo said because of the ongoing murder investigation, Olsen's remains could neither be cremated nor returned to the United States for burial.

Prosecutors on Thursday arrested Diaw, 27, after DNA analysis on a condom and cigarette butt placed him at Olsen's apartment. He also had her cell phone. Witnesses said the two had met earlier in the evening at a Florence disco and had gone to her apartment together.

Her death has unnerved Florence's tight-knit expat community as well as the locals.

"She was a presence in Santo Spirito, more or less everyone knew her," said resident Andrea Alvini, at the newspaper stand on the piazza corner. "I am honestly very sorry."


Winfield reported from Rome.