MILWAUKEE — He was the luckiest kid in the world.
That's how the family of Beau Solomon felt just over a decade ago, when the young boy from Spring Green got to meet legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre through the Make-A-Wish program.
Solomon went on to survive a 10-year battle with a rare form of cancer, and became a leader on and off the football field. He graduated with high honors from River Valley High school while playing three sports all four years, and was involved in student council and other activities.
He also worked as a camp counselor for Badger Boys State and taught at youth quarterback camps around Wisconsin.
Solomon's remarkable life was cut short late last week, just hours after he arrived in Italy to study abroad. The 19-year-old University of Wisconsin-Madison student was reported missing after he went to a bar in Rome with friends on Thursday night, and his body was found Monday in the Tiber River with a head wound and blood on his shirt. More than $1,000 was charged to his credit card after he disappeared.
Italian police have arrested a 40-year-old homeless man in the case. The suspect, Massimo Galioto, was stopped by officers Monday night and is "seriously suspected of aggravated homicide," police said Tuesday in an email.
The Associated Press reported that police suspect Solomon was robbed and struggled with Galioto, who then pushed him into the river. Galioto then went back to sleep in his tent on the riverbank after his alleged crime, the Italian news service ANSA reported.
John Cabot University officials said Solomon's roommate alerted school officials that they had lost contact about 1 a.m. Friday, and was worried when he didn't see Solomon at orientation that morning.
Solomon's death has shaken the small town of Spring Green, which held a candlelight vigil Monday night at the River Valley High School football stadium to remember him.
Thomas Wermuth, district administrator for the River Valley School District, released a statement Tuesday praising Solomon as a leader and role model.
"Beau was an engaged student who made a meaningful impact at River Valley," Wermuth said. "He graduated Magna Cum Laude (High Honors), participated in three sports all four years of high school, was involved in forensics, student council, was also a Blackhawk Leader, and mentor to many students."
Solomon had battled histiocytosis, a rare, cancer-like autoimmune condition for half of his life, but refused to let it dampen his drive. He loved politics and wanted to become a lawyer, his brother Jake said.
Solomon fought the disease, which causes a person's immune cells to attack the body, for 10 years until the age of 12, enduring three rounds of chemotherapy and about 20 surgeries to remove cancerous tumors, Jake said.
It was during that fight that Solomon traveled with his parents and three brothers to Lambeau Field, where a jersey with his name on it was waiting for him in the locker next to Favre's in the Packers' locker room.
"Meeting all the players was thrilling, fun, exciting and all of the good things you can think of," Beau Solomon said at the time, according to a 2005 Packers.com article. "It was fun meeting Brett and seeing that he's just a regular guy like anybody else. My favorite part was when he was making faces at my baby brother, Max, to make him laugh while we were taking pictures."
Solomon remained especially close to Max, who's now 12.
Beau's father, Nick Solomon, said at the time that the experience was one the family would never forget.
"When your child is sick you try to think of all the positive things. For those few days that we were around the Packers, we honestly felt that he was the luckiest kid in the world. We all feel that we're the luckiest family in the world and that despite the illness, Beau is the luckiest kid in the world," he said.
"Brett identified with Beau in a way that made him feel comfortable and feel special. And the ability for him and all the other Packers that were involved to do that really made that experience very special and something our family will remember forever."
His parents, Nick and Jodi Solomon, left for Italy Sunday.
UW-Madison officials said they have been working with John Cabot University in Rome, and are focused on helping the Solomon family.
"The investigation into Beau's death remains active and we are unable to share additional information about the circumstances around his disappearance late last week," Guido Podesta, UW-Madison vice provost and dean of the international division, said in a statement.
Podesta stressed that safety is UW-Madison's priority, and said the university recently added a full-time position devoted to international safety and security.
Old photographs and memories flooded Solomon's Facebook wall as friends learned of his death.
“There are a lot of kids that didn't have the time of day for you, but not Beau.”Carissa Dixon, substitute teacher
"There are a lot of kids that didn't have the time of day for you, but not Beau. He always said hello, he typically would compliment the cheerleaders, he was a hero to little kids," wrote Carissa Dixon, who taught as a substitute for one of Solomon's high school classes.
Hannah Wulf, a Sussex native who just finished her first year at UW-Madison, met Solomon living down the hall from him at school. The two of them — along with friend Rowan McDonnell — were inseparable, she said.
The two spent time in the school's dining halls, dancing to Hawaiian music and hanging out with other friends, she said.
And it's because of Solomon she found passion in working with children and decided to pursue a degree in human development and family studies, Wulf said.
On the phone with Solomon the night before his departure for Italy, the two chatted over his excitement to meet new people and experience Roman culture.
"He's in such a good place," Wulf said. "I don't think it's hit me yet that I won't be seeing him ever again. He was a light in everyone's eyes."
Source: USA Today.com