German couple abandon three children in Italian pizzeria

April 23rd, 2009 - 11:44 am ICT by IANS  

Rome/Berlin, April 23 (DPA) Fearing a possible suicide, police in Germany and Italy were searching Wednesday for a German couple who abandoned three children at a pizza restaurant in northern Italy.
Two boys, aged 10 months and six years, and their four-year-old sister were declared wards of court, and German officials were set to fly the children home from the town of Aosta, where a foster family was caring for them.

The 26-year-old mother and her 24-year-old male companion have not been seen since telling the children Sunday that they were going outside to smoke a cigarette. German officials disclosed that the man had escaped three weeks ago from a German prison.

The biological father of the three children was serving a prison term for the 2006 fatal shaking of his fourth child, a daughter, a prosecution spokesman said in Siegen, Germany. The father was convicted of causing fatal bodily harm to his daughter.

Senior prosecutor Johannes Daheim said in Siegen that the man with the mother in Aosta had been serving a sentence until 2011 for robbery. He had failed to return as scheduled April 2 after a two-day furlough from a minimum-security prison in Oelde, North Rhine-Westphalia.

The mother, companion and children had arrived Saturday in Aosta and checked into a hotel.

“They looked like the typical young couple with their pretty children,” hotel owner Ezio Gevroz said. “Only when I discovered on Sunday that their credit card was empty did I have doubts.”

Police later found that the missing couple had left their car near the Aosta motorway exit after it had run out of fuel.

“It seemed strange to me on Sunday evening,” Gevroz said. “The children were dressed far too lightly. They went to the pizzeria without jacket or umbrella, although it was raining.”

When the restaurant staff realised the adults were missing, they started searching the premises, reluctant to believe that the children had been left behind. Finally, they called police.

The older boy led police to the abandoned car, where officers found the mother’s diary, which contained suicidal thoughts. Other notes suggested the adults had run out of money.

Saying it was possible the couple had lost the will to live, Italian police launched a search in the Aosta valley, focussing on its many waterways, but have found no trace of the mother or her partner.

A hospital checkup showed the children to be in good health. The child welfare office in the family’s home town of Olpe, 70 km east of Cologne, has taken charge of the children, obtaining an order to make them wards of court.

“The Italian authorities have okayed it. Two of our staff will travel to Aosta on Thursday and bring them home Friday,” said a city official in Olpe.

Two weeks ago, the children’s grandmother had alerted police that the children had disappeared with their mother.

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