Guns, Knives, Drugs: Italian investigators leak WhatsApp messages from accused killer of Rome police officer

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The cellphones of the two young men from the Bay Area, who are suspects in the death of an Italian police officer, allegedly contained photos and videos of the two with guns, knives and drugs back here before the killing. Their defense teams are scrambling to answer a leak of that information from Italian investigators.

I-Team reporter Dan Noyes has obtained that police report with those startling images. It says the cellphones also contained video of the suspects in Rome and text messages to a friend back in the Bay Area describing events as they unfold, leading up to the officer's death.


Both of the young men suspected in the death of Italian police officer Mario Cerciello Rega on July 26 are being held at a prison in central Rome. Nineteen-year-old Finn Elder from San Francisco admits stabbing the officer, but claims self-defense and that he didn't know Rega was police. Eighteen-year-old Gabriel Natale from Mill Valley is being held as an accessory; he struggled with Rega's partner and ran off.

In the report, a mother's struggle with her teenage son is on full display. On June 30, Natale of Mill Valley and his mother, Heidi Hjorth, argued over his drug use and suspected drug dealing. The exchange is included in the investigators report that derailed a hearing on Monday.

In it Hjorth says, in part, "If you need to make me the bad guy so you can move out and do your drugs and sell your drugs and party all night and not have a life that's productive then you go ahead and do that. I don't feel guilty for one second because I am more than reasonable with you and all you do is take advantage of me with nothing in return."

In the message, Natale responds in part, "lol you sound so ridiculous... just because i tried some mushrooms for the 2nd time in my life and decided (to) be honest and tell you, leave me the f*** alone and I'll leave you alone, i'm done trying to make you happy it (sic) pointless."

Natale's lawyers were asking the court to let him out of prison for home confinement, while the case moves forward. But with the release of the cellphone report, Natale's lawyers had to ask for a delay.

For that hearing, Natale's defense submitted a letter he wrote to his mother on July 16, apologizing for the recent troubles.


At a hearing Monday morning, Natale's attorneys had planned to ask for his release to home confinement -- his grandfather has a seaside villa about an hour from the prison.

But over the weekend, investigators released a 75-page report with some of the photos, videos and texts from the suspects' phones. They show the young men with guns -- inside, outside, driving in a car with guns -- also with knives and drugs. Both Natale and Elder are pictured with what appears to be marijuana, cocaine and prescription medications, and some messages on the photos suggest they may have been selling drugs. Investigators conclude the evidence "supports the serious indications of guilt" that have already emerged.

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Natale's attorneys called off Monday's hearing to ask for home detention. Fabio Alonzi told reporters in Rome, he saw the report with the photos on Friday, was not able to see Natale in prison until Monday morning, and that he needs to analyze the documents with his client and experts.

Investigators say they have also recovered videos from the phone that show the young men in Rome before the killing, Elder and Natale hitting one popular spot called the "Ice Bar".

According to the report, a series of WhatsApp messages between Finn Elder and his former girlfriend describe what led up to the fatal encounter with the officers.

Elder: "Gabe just got robbed. LMAO."
Girlfriend: "OMFG. How?"
Elder: "We were trying to buy coke from these sketchy guys."

The meeting was captured on surveillance video that night.

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Elder continues, "And they wanted Gabe alone so I could watch this guys backpack. Gabe turns the corner like bro I think I just got robbed. So I'm like imma grab his bag. So ran back n stole the bums bag lol."

Elder running with the backpack and Natale, also on surveillance video.

Elder continues: "Yeah well Gabe is hella pissed and I'm just like eh saw that coming. ... He's like bro we gotta go out now... I'm like bro I'm tired. Gabe is so mad lol."

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Then, the girlfriend doesn't know, Elder and Natale go to meet the backpack owner, but he has called police.

Officer Rega and his partner meet the young men on a street corner. A fight erupts, Elder stabbing Cerciello Rega 11 times in 32 seconds, according to investigators. Finn Elder claims it was self defense, and that he didn't know Rega was an officer.
The teens run back to their hotel. The report indicates Elder again messages his girlfriend on WhatsApp:
Elder: "No matter what happens, I love you."
Girlfriend: "I love you too but what."
Elder: "Talk more when I'm back."
Girlfriend: "Back from where."
Elder: "I don't know if I'll ever make it back."

Investigators say Elder then had a video call with his girlfriend. His American attorney, Craig Peters, sent us a statement Monday: "If you don't have the facts on your side, your options are to 1) acknowledge those facts, or 2) make up facts or 3) focus on making the other side look bad. Based on what we now know about the objective facts, and that they line up with what the boys stated occurred (during nine hours of questioning without lawyers), it's disappointing that the focus is not on the relevant, objective facts of that night."

And Elder's Italian attorney, Roberto Capra, sent us this response: "The new investigations' results confirmed the doubts the defense had. In fact, today we know that Mr. Varriale, Rega Cerciello's colleague, did not have his gun. Like Rega Cerciello. As well as the handcuffs and the identification card, which were not found. These elements confirm that the Carabinieri operation was not an official one. They also confirm what was initially claimed by the two boys: it was not possible to understand that Varriale and Rega Cerciello belonged to the police. Today, the military public prosecutor is investigating Varriale and his boss and it is now certain that they lied. It is an extremely serious matter that threats the reliability of the Carabinieri about this story. We strongly believe that the trial will provide clarity on all these aspects and it will confirm the story told by my client since the beginning: it was a self-defense reaction."

For a look at more stories and videos by Dan Noyes and the ABC7 News I-Team.
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