San Francisco parents of teen suspected in Italy cop slaying speak publicly for first time

The parents of Finnegan Lee Elder, one of two Bay Area teens suspected in the murder of an Italian police officer, have spoken publicly for the first time since his arrest.

Italian media outlet TGCom24 interviewed the Elders, identified as Leah and Ethan, outside of a home in San Francisco’s Sunset District. Elder’s mother read from a prepared statement.

“We grieve for the family of the officer,” she said, adding that the family was “awaiting further news” and declined to comment further.

“We are just heartbroken at the loss of life,” she said.

Leah Elder also indicated the trip was a “last minute” idea.

Finnegan Lee Elder, 19, and Gabriel Christian Natale-Hjorth, 18, are in custody after Italian authorities say they murdered Carabinieri Deputy Brigadier Mario Cerciello Rega, 35, in Rome on July 26. Elder’s family says he met up with Natale-Hjorth in Rome, where Natale-Hjorth was visiting family. Natale-Hjorth has dual Italian-American citizenship, the Italian Foreign Ministry confirmed.

The pair attended Tamalpais High in Mill Valley together, graduating in 2018. Elder reportedly also attended Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep in San Francisco for a year. When he was 16, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Elder punched a student at a late-night party in Stern Grove, leaving him with a “severe brain injury.”

On Wednesday, more details about the crime scene in Rome emerged from Italian law enforcement and prosecutors.

MORE: Slain officer didn’t have a gun when stabbed, Italian officials say

According to police, Cerciello Rega and his partner were responding to a report of a drug deal gone wrong. The Italian judge in charge of approving the teens’ detention said Elder and Natale-Hjorth paid a drug dealer for cocaine, but did not receive the drug. Police say the teens stole a backpack from the dealer’s intermediary and then demanded 100 euros and a gram of cocaine to get it back.

The intermediary called the police to report the alleged extortion, and Cerciello Rega was assigned to the planned meet-up with the Americans. Cerciello Rega’s partner says Elder and Natale-Hjorth “attacked right away,” even though the police showed their badges and identified themselves.

Cerciello Rega died after being stabbed 11 times with a military-style knife. Italian police say Elder did the stabbing while Natale-Hjorth assaulted the other officer.

Prosecutor Nunzia D’Elia told the Associated Press that during interrogations, the Americans “exhibited apparent difficulty in grasping the gravity of the situation.”

“‘Is he really dead? Dead, dead?'” D’Elia said Natale-Hjorth responded when he learned the officer was deceased.

Katie Dowd is an SFGATE Senior Digital Editor. Contact: katie.dowd@sfgate.com | Twitter: @katiedowd

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/rome-officer-killing-finnegan-elder-natale-hjorth-14270192.php.

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