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Pope Francis meets with parents of drowned American student

Pope Francis met on Wednesday with the parents of a US college student whose body was found in Rome’s Tiber river this week, after apparently either being pushed or falling into the water less than 24 hours after arriving in Italy for summer classes.

A brief Holy See statement said Francis expressed to Beau Solomon’s parents “feelings of deepest sympathy and compassion, and his closeness in prayer to the Lord for the young man who died so tragically.” The Pope held the unscheduled, private encounter shortly before holding an audience with French pilgrims in a Vatican auditorium.

The mother, Jodi Solomon, appeared to be crying as her husband, Nick Solomon, put an arm around her while Francis tried to comfort the couple. Francis raised his hand in blessing.

Solomon’s roommate has told school officials he last saw him early Friday at a pub popular with US students in the Trastevere neighbourhood of cafes, bars and restaurants near the Tiber.

The 19-year-old Solomon, who had just completed his first year of study at University of Wisconsin-Madison, had arrived in the Italian capital on Thursday for study at John Cabot University, a four-year, English-language institution not far from the pub.

Initial autopsy findings indicated there was water in the young man’s lungs, meaning Solomon would have been alive when he ended up in the water, the Italian news agency ANSA said.

Police on Tuesday detained a homeless Italian, Massimo Galioto, 40, whom they described as being “seriously suspected of murder aggravated by futile motives.”

Solomon’s body was found on Monday a few kilometres down river from Trastevere.

A female companion of the Italian, who lived in an improvised camp set up along the Tiber’s banks and near the base of one of the river’s bridges, has said the American fell into the water after a shoving match with Galioto. The woman, Alessia Pennachioli, has described Solomon as being drunk and tumbling into the water.

Pennachioli told Italian RAI state TV that Solomon had been robbed by two Moroccan men, and that after he descended a staircase leading from a bridge to one of the Tiber’s banks, he was “agitated, and had a fight” with Galioto, whom she referred to as Max. “It ended badly,” she said on RAI.

Solomon “pushed, Max pushed back. He pushed a second time. Max pushed again,” Pennachioli said. Solomon was “drunk and tumbled over” into the water, the woman said.

Some witnesses have told authorities the student was pushed into the river.

Although most of the river winds through the city placidly during summer, just downstream where the alleged scuffle took place is a small rapid, and concrete and rocks line much of the Tiber’s banks.

Solomon’s credit cards were used on Friday in Milan, and police are investigating whether other, still unidentified persons, had robbed him.

Across the river on the other bank, a summer-long fair, featuring food booths and artisans’ shops, has been drawing thousands of visitors nightly.

It wasn’t clear at what time Solomon was spotted on the river bank.

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