Homeless Man Arrested for Death of U.S. Student Found in Rome’s Tiber River

Just days after he was discovered to be missing, 19-year-old cancer survivor Beau Solomon turned up dead on Monday.

REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

ROME — Beau Solomon, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Wisconsin in Madison came to Rome to fulfill a dream to study abroad. Instead he was found floating in Rome’s muddy Tiber River, likely killed a few hours after he arrived in the eternal city. His death is being investigated as a murder after someone used his credit card to rack up more than $1,500 in charges in Milan.

Police have arrested 41-year-old Massimo Galioto on charges of aggravated homicide. Galioto, a homeless man, has not yet been charged with the theft of Solomon’s wallet and phone. Authorities tell The Daily Beast they believe a gang of thugs who prey on foreign tourists may have been involved in mugging the American, but Galioto is accused of throwing him in the river. Autopsy results that should indicate whether Solomon died from drowning or was dead before he was thrown into the Tiber River are expected this week.

Solomon’s brother Cole told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that his brother had a head wound and blood on his shirt.

Solomon arrived in Rome on Thursday, June 30, to attend a five-week course at Rome’s popular John Cabot Universtiy, the orientation of which was held July 1. When Solomon arrived, he and the others attending the course went to a popular bar in the lively Trastevere district of Rome near Piazza Trilussa, which is well-known for its nightlife. He was last seen around 1 a.m. Friday morning, and when he didn’t show up for orientation at the university the next morning, authorities at the school alerted the police and the American embassy, which, in turn alerted his family.

On Monday, John Cabot University released a statement confirming Solomon’s death. “John Cabot University is deeply saddened to announce that the body of Beau Solomon, the missing American visiting student, has been found in the Tiber River,” the statement said. “We express our most heartfelt condolences to the Solomon family and to all those who loved Beau.”

Solomon’s Wisconsin university also issued a statement. “All of us at UW-Madison are greatly saddened by this loss. Beau was a bright and caring young man who lived the Wisconsin Idea through his work at Badger Boys State and his desire to travel and experience other cultures,” Chancellor Rebecca Blank said, according to the Journal article. “Our hearts go out to Beau’s family and friends at this difficult time.”

The American embassy could not be reached on the Fourth of July, and the friends who reached out to The Daily Beast when he was missing have asked for time to process the loss of their loved one before commenting.

In 2005, Solomon met his favorite football player Brett Favre thorough the Make A Wish Foundation, according to the Green Bay Packers website. He had survived a rare cancer as a child and had undergone extensive surgery and chemotherapy. He was part of the Make a Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to terminally ill children. His was to meet his favorite football star Brett Favre.

His friends and family at home used social networking and reached out to media, including The Daily Beast in Rome, to get the word out about the missing teen. In searching for the young man, police somehow failed to connect testimony from two Italians who reported seeing someone being “hurled off a bridge” about a mile upriver from where Solomon’s body was found. Police apparently did not send officers to investigate the scene when the report was made in the early hours of Friday morning.

Local police also apparently failed to make an immediate connection on Sunday night when they found the body of a young man with serious wounds to his head without any identification in a seedy section of Rome’s Tiber River, where it is common to find the remnants of stolen purses and wallets that float down the river and get stuck in the overgrown trees that line the banks.

Solomon’s credit card was used in Milan over the weekend, and police were working under the assumption that the young man had perhaps made the charges. Only when the American embassy pressured police to find the missing student did they put all the pieces together.

Investigating magistrate Marcello Monteleone now has to connect the dots of the mysterious death together, starting with just who Solomon left the bar with on Thursday night, and just who made the charges on the dead man’s credit card 24 hours later. He has opened a homicide investigation and an autopsy will be conducted on Tuesday to determine Solomon’s exact cause of death and to see if he had any strange substances in his body.

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In 2014, a 21-year-old American student John Durkin, was found dead in a train tunnel in Rome, his legs severed from a passing train after leaving a bar under similar circumstances. His wallet and phone had also gone missing, and the circumstances surrounding his death are still unclear.

In January, a 35-year-old American artist named Ashley Olsen was found strangled in her apartment in Florence after partying at a local nightclub. Cheik Diaw, the man she went home with from the nightclub, has been charged with her murder and stealing her cellphone from her apartment before he left.

Young Americans are frequently criticized for their bad behavior when they come abroad to study, free from the chains of drinking ages and parental controls. Though these deaths rarely serve as a warning to the hoards that arrive each year that there are predators looking for just the type of vulnerable novice drinker a fresh American abroad often is.

—This story was updated with news of the arrest on Tuesday morning.