Pope Francis prays with parents of US student killed in Rome

Pope Francis blesses the parents of American university student Beau Solomon during a private meeting at the Vatican July 6, 2016. (Photo courtesy of L'Osservatore Romano/Handout via Reuters)

Vatican City — Pope Francis has met the parents of an American teenager who died in suspicious circumstances just after he arrived to start a foreign study program.

Francis held a meeting with Jodi and Nick Solomon on Wednesday morning, July 6, during which the pope expressed his sympathy and compassion and "closeness in praying to God for the young man who died so tragically."

The body of Beau Solomon, 19, was found in the Tiber River on Monday, following his disappearance just hours after arriving in Rome last Thursday. His parents had flown to Rome to assist in the search, which ended with the authorities' grim discovery.

Solomon, from Spring Green, Wis., had traveled to the Italian capital for a summer school program at John Cabot University and went missing during a night out with fellow students.

The group had gone to a bar in the city's popular Trastevere district and assumed Solomon had already left when the students were unable to find him. On realizing he was not at the university residence they returned to the bar, around a 10-minute walk away, and reported him missing when he failed to show up for registration the next morning.

Solomon's body was found around three miles downriver from the area in which he was last seen by friends.

A police investigation led to the arrest earlier this week of Massimo Galioto, a 40-year-old homeless man who had been living on the river banks.

Galioto was named by police as the prime suspect in the case, and widespread reports point to an altercation between the two, during which the Italian allegedly pushed Solomon into the river.

Autopsy results released Wednesday showed that Solomon drowned, excluding the theory that he was killed and later dumped in the Tiber.

Police are also investigating suspicious activity on the student's credit card during the hours after he went missing, suggesting that he may have also been robbed. Galioto has not been charged with theft and there have been reports that Solomon was robbed by two other people, although as of Wednesday there had been no further arrests.

Solomon was the third of four boys, and his family described him as a determined student who aspired to enter politics. He had just completed his first year at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, majoring in personal finance.

A prayer service for Solomon is set for Thursday evening at Santa Maria in Trastevere, the neighborhood's main church, and will be attended by students from John Cabot.

The university's chancellor, Rebecca Blank, described Solomon as "a bright and caring young man" and said the community was greatly saddened by the news.

John Cabot said the university was working with Italian authorities and the U.S. Embassy. "Our hearts go out to his family and friends, and we are committed to assisting the family in any way possible," the university said in a statement.

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