updated 4/23/2009 7:43:51 PM ET 2009-04-23T23:43:51

A German couple who abandoned three young children in a pizzeria in northwestern Italy four days ago were found by police Thursday on the outskirts of the town, authorities said.

"They immediately asked about the children, but were sure that they were in a safe place," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Aosta police chief Salvatore Aprile as telling a news conference a few hours after the children's mother and her companion were spotted by police patrol.

The pair told officers they had run out of cash and "even had sold a cell phone in these days to be able to buy something to eat," Aprile was quoted as saying.

The German couple and the children had dinner at a pizzeria late Sunday in Aosta. The two then went outside to smoke and never came back, abandoning the three siblings: a boy of 6, a girl of 4, and an 8-month-old boy.

Police have identified the woman as Ina Caterina Remhof, 26, and the man as Sascha Schmidt, 24. The children were Remhof's from a previous relationship.

It was not immediately clear what charges they might face.

Germany prosecutor investigates
Earlier, prosecutors in Aosta had said they had opened an investigation for abandoning minors. The state prosecutor's office in Germany said it was considering whether to open a probe against the mother.

The couple also left behind their car and the woman's diary, which detailed the family's financial difficulties.

Remhof told investigators that she and Schmidt decided to leave the children when they started crying because "they didn't have anything to eat," the Italian news agency ANSA quoted her as saying.

She also reportedly told investigators that she was sure the children would have been taken care of and "sent back to Germany, and I would have found them again when I got up some money," ANSA said. Remhof reportedly burst into tears when told authorities would take her children away from her.

Eating from trash?
Remhof also said she had been planning to go begging to get money, and that after leaving the children, the couple ate discarded food from trash bins, the news report said.

Before the pair were found, officials from youth services in the German town of Olpe had traveled to Italy to retrieve the children, according to the office's spokesman, Hans-Werner Voss. It was not immediately clear if the couple's reappearance would change the plans.

Although the couple at first tried to get away when the police patrol found them, the pair "seemed almost relieved that their flight was over," the police chief, Aprile, told the news conference.

German authorities have said that the children's biological father is in jail for fatally mistreating a fourth child he had with Remhof, and that Schmidt did not return to prison in Germany earlier this month after a leave. He was serving a sentence for predatory extortion.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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