Beau Solomon’s friends are struggling to wrap their minds around what happened to the 20-year-old University of Wisconsin student whose remains were found in Rome’s Tiber River Monday morning – four days after the cancer survivor went missing after arriving in Italy for a study-abroad program hours before.
“I can’t even begin to grasp that you’re gone,” writes Rowan McDonnell, one of Solomon’s closest friends, in a Facebook posting. “I’ve never met a person that has been so life changing. The greatest friend that anyone could ask for and I am lucky to have been able to call you my best friend.”
Authorities say Solomon arrived in the Italian capital Thursday evening and spent much of the evening carousing with friends at a nearby bar.
On Friday, Solomon’s roommate at John Cabot University, a small liberal arts college popular with American students at which Solomon was about to study abroad, reported him missing after he failed to materialize for an orientation program.
On Monday, hours after locating Solomon’s body, Italian police detained a homeless man they’ve since identified as 40-year-old Massimo Galioto, and are holding him on suspicion of aggravated homicide for futile motives.
“You were someone that lit up a room and brought so much happiness to everyone that surrounded you,” wrote McDonnell, who did not respond to PEOPLE’s requests for an interview. “It hurts to say goodbye to someone that was a son, a brother, or a friend to so many. Though I don’t know why God decided to take you away so early, I do know that I’ll see you again and I’m waiting for that day.”
A statement issued by Solomon’s former school district called the former high school football star “an engaged student who made a meaningful impact.”
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The River Valley School District’s statement notes Solomon graduated from high school magna cum laude and participated in three sports during his high school sports career.
He was “involved in forensics, student council, was also a Blackhawk Leader, and mentor to many students. The Solomon family has many close friends and relatives in the River Valley community and throughout southwestern Wisconsin. Our focus will be on supporting the Solomon family during this very difficult time,” the statement says.
Meanwhile, University of Wisconsin Chancellor Rebecca Blank described Solomon as “a bright and caring young man who lived the Wisconsin Idea through his work at Badger Boys State and his desire to travel and experience other cultures. Our hearts go out to Beau’s family and friends at this difficult time.”
10-Year Battle with Cancer
According to police, Solomon’s credit cards had been used in Milan soon after he vanished, with more than $1,500 in new charges.
He had just completed his first year of study at the University of Wisconsin’s Madison campus, where he was a personal finance major in the School of Human Ecology.
One of Solomon’s high school friends, who spoke on condition of anonymity, tells PEOPLE she was stunned to learn of his death.
“It’s crazy to see something like this happen to someone you know,” the friend explains. “Beau would always put a smile on your face, and he was always willing to help others. He was a kindhearted, genuine person who would lift you up whenever he saw you were down. He was as joyful as could be and just a truly amazing person. I just can’t come to terms with this.”
The friend says when Solomon was young, he inspired all of his classmates through his brave bout with a rare form of cancer. He fought the deadly disease for 10 years until the age of 12, when he went into remission.
In 2005, Solomon – who would later go on to play quarterback for his high school’s football team – was given the chance to meet his favorite NFL team, the Green Bay Packers.
According to Packers.com, Beau was approached by the Make-A-Wish Foundation, who arranged for him to meet the team in their own locker room.
He also received game tickets, a tour of Lambeau Field and also joined former head coach Mike Sherman in rallying the post-practice huddle.
“Meeting all the players was thrilling, fun, exciting and all of the good things you can think of,” Solomon is quoted in the article as saying. “It was fun meeting Brett Favre 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.”