Strange Disappearance German Couple Abandons Three Children in Restaurant

It sounds like a cruel fairy tale -- a German couple has reportedly left their three young children stranded in a restaurant in northern Italy and disappeared without a trace.

A German couple has allegedly abandoned their three children -- aged eight months to four years -- in a restaurant in Italy.

The man and woman walked out of the restaurant in the northern Italian town of Aosta at 8:30 p.m. on Sunday night saying they wanted to smoke a cigarette. When they hadn't returned after 10 minutes, the waiters started looking for them -- in vain, though, as they had disappeared without trace.

In the meantime, the children sat at the table and continued to eat their food. "The children didn't understand what had happened," Carmelo Casello, the manager of the pizza restaurant, told Italian television channel RAI. "They though their mother had gone to the bathroom and got lost on her way back."

The restaurant alerted the police who initiated a search for the 26-year-old mother, named only as Ina Caterina R., and her 24-year-old partner, Sascha S., who is not believed not to be the children's biological father.

Officials took the children into care. All three looked unkempt but were in good health, police said. The family had arrived in Aosta, located in the Italian Alps north of Torino, by car on Saturday. They had no luggage and had spent the night in a hotel.

The owner of the hotel, Ezio Gevroz, said the mother had seemed afraid and almost in a state of panic. He said their credit card hadn't worked. Why the couple disappeared remains a mystery. Their car was discovered in a suburb of Aosta.

Police said documents found in the car suggested that they were in financial difficulties and may have drug problems.

The children's grandmother has been located in Germany, and an Italian court must now decide whether they can be handed over to her, Italian media reported.

cro -- with wire reports
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