The tribute by Italian police put the slain officer's fate in numbers: 35 years old, married for just 43 days, dead of eight stab wounds inflicted in the wake of €100 demanded for a stolen bag.
As law enforcement mourns the Rome killing of Mario Cerciello Rega that has sparked outrage in Italy, more numbers have been added to the picture: two 19-year-old Americans arrested Friday and accused of aggravated murder and attempted extortion, according to the Carabinieri, the Italian military police force where Cerciello Rega served.
Prosecutors have identified the two as Gabriel Christian Natale Hjorth and Finnegan Lee Elder, both born in San Francisco, The Associated Press reported Saturday. Elder is accused of stabbing the officer Friday, and Natale Hjorth is alleged to have struck the officer's partner, who was not seriously injured, with his hands. Italian authorities say the students have confessed.
The Washington Post could not immediately reach Natale Hjorth and Elder, nor their lawyers. Police have said formal charges are pending. Prosecutors and the Carabinieri did not immediately respond to the Post on Saturday.
As authorities investigate, Italy's deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, remembered Cerciello Rega on Twitter as "a hero, a boy with all his life ahead" and promised the culprits would face justice. Salvini is also Italy's interior minister. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte called the officer's killing a "deep wound for the State," while the Italian army, state police and a host of other agencies, politicians and Italian citizens shared their condolences online.
Authorities say the tragedy started when the American students allegedly attempted to buy drugs.
After realising they had received fake product, the suspects looked for the seller , police told The New York Times. Unable to locate him , the teens pursued the Italian man who had pointed them toward the alleged drug-peddler earlier and stole his bag with his cellphone inside.
When the Italian man called his phone, the American teens demanded €100 and a gram of cocaine for the bag's return, according to the Carabinieri. Police say the Italian agreed over the phone to meet for the exchange but then alerted the authorities of the theft.
The Carabinieri responded, and Cerciello Rega was wounded when one of the Americans attacked him with a knife, police said. One of the officer's eight stabbings hit his heart, Italian state media outlet ANSA reported.
The suspects fled as Cerciello Rega was taken to the hospital, according to ANSA. But authorities used video surveillance and witness testimonies to identify the two Americans, who police say were captured in their hotel preparing to leave Italy.
Authorities found a large knife allegedly used to kill Cerciello Rega "cleverly hidden" behind a ceiling panel, as well as clothes worn during the attack, Italian authorities said. Interrogated by the Carabinieri under the oversight of Rome's public prosecutor, the accused confessed.
Elder's lawyer, Francesco Codini, said Elder chose not to answer questions during a Saturday hearing in the Rome jail where he and Natale Hjorth are in custody, according to the AP, which added that Natale Hjorth's lawyer was not available to comment.
A judge has yet to rule on whether Natale Hjorth and Elder will be held beyond the three day period authorized, the AP said Saturday.
The US State Department in a statement said it was aware of the incident and provides help to American citizens detained abroad but could not comment further because of privacy considerations.
The two American suspects' arrest comes a month after US citizen Amanda Knox returned to Italy for the first time since she was exonerated in an infamous murder case in the country. In a legal drama that drew significant media attention, Knox and her then-boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito were convicted, freed and convicted again for the 2007 killing of Knox's roommate in Italy - then released in 2015 after Italy's highest court stepped in. Knox was 20 and studying abroad in Perugia when she was charged with her roommate's stabbing.
As more details of Cerciello Rega's killing emerge, about 100 friends and family from Campania - where the dead officer hailed from - came to Rome to remember him, ANSA reported. Those who knew the officer praised him as a kindhearted man who volunteered.
"Mario was a lovely lad," Sandro Ottaviani, the commander of Rome's Piazza Farnese Carabinieri station, told the state news outlet. "He never held back at work and he was figurehead for the whole district."
The Carabinieri's Facebook page highlights the condolences coming to the police force from all over Italy, sharing a picture of a flower bouquet and letter left by a girl and her mother.
Carabinieri police said its 110,000 members share a "painful loss."
The numbers behind the tragedy - Cerciello Rega's young age, his cut-short marriage - "are a tally of a life devoted to others and to duty, of unconditional dedication and courage, full of hope and promise," the police force said.