VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Wednesday met with the parents of an American university student tragically killed last Friday, just one day after his arrival in Italy.
Nineteen-year-old Beau Solomon arrived in Rome last Thursday to take part in John Cabot University’s Rome summer study abroad program. He was reported missing after leaving a pub early Friday morning.
His parents, Nick and Jodi Solomon, who are members of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Spring Green, Wisconsin, flew to Rome to work with Italian and U.S. Embassy officials on the search. His body was found on Monday in the Tiber River and identified by American embassy officials.
At the meeting on Wednesday, the pope embraced the grieving parents, blessed them with the sign of the cross on their foreheads, and prayed with them in silence, the Vatican’s Osservatore Romano reported on Wednesday afternoon. He then gave them a rosary and expressed his sympathy.
Following the pope’s meeting with Solomon’s parents, Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi, SJ, issued a statement saying Pope Francis expressed to them 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 Italian news reports, after leaving the pub late Friday, Solomon was robbed of his credit card by two unidentified people along the bank of Rome’s Tiber River. Several witnesses reportedly told police Solomon was visibly intoxicated. Some time after the robbery, an argument broke out between the American college student and a homeless man, 41-year-old Massimo Galioto. What happened next is the crux of the investigation. It has been confirmed that Solomon’s credit cards were used in Milan after his disappearance.
Galioto has been taken into custody in connection with Solomon’s death, with police saying the man was “seriously suspected of aggravated homicide.”
An autopsy conducted on Wednesday will be crucial in determining if the young man was alive before being pushed into the Tiber, while a toxicological examination will serve to confirm the presence of alcohol or other substances in Solomon’s body.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Ambassador to Italy, John Phillips, released a statement saying, “I was saddened to learn of the tragic death of Beau Solomon. My heart goes out to his family and friends. The U.S. Embassy stands ready to provide support to Italian authorities investigating his disappearance and death.”
Rome’s Sant’Egidio Community in Trastevere, where the John Cabot University is located, announced today that it will hold a prayer service for Beau Solomon on Thursday, July 7, at 8:30pm at the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, together with his fellow students.
Update: An autopsy on Wednesday concluded death by drowning, Il Fatto reported this afternoon. The autopsy, conducted at the Institute of Legal Medicine at La Sapienza University, confirmed the presence of water in Solomon’s lungs, ruling out the possibility the young man was already dead when he was pushed into the Tiber. Examiners will need to wait several days on toxicology results.
Diane Montagna is Rome correspondent for Aleteia’s English edition.