Ina Caterina Remhof could face charges for abandoning children
A German couple who abandoned three young children in an Italian pizzeria on Sunday have told police they fled because they had no money, reports say.
Ina Caterina Remhof, the 26-year-old mother, and her partner Sascha Schmidt, 24, said they had to eat scraps of food from bins, the Ansa news agency said.
The pair were found on Thursday in a wood near the northern town of Aosta.
The two left the restaurant in Aosta, supposedly for a cigarette, but never returned. The children are now in care.
Arrangements are being made to take the children - believed to be aged four, two and eight months - back home to western Germany, where they may be placed in their grandmother's care.
Police had been combing the Aosta valley before the couple were found by a patrol on Thursday afternoon.
Investigators had feared they would not be found alive, as their car was also abandoned, along with a diary detailing financial problems.
Staff at the Aosta pizzeria only realised they had vanished after 10 minutes
"They immediately asked about the children, but were sure that they were in a safe place," Ansa quoted local police official Salvatore Aprile as saying.
The two "seemed almost relieved that their flight was over," he said, though Ms Remhof was said to have started crying when told her children would probably be taken away from her.
The Italian newspaper, La Stampa, quoted Ms Remhof as saying that she and her boyfriend had left for a holiday in Italy with 900 euros (£815) but had quickly run out of money.
They decided to leave the children when they started crying because "they didn't have anything to eat", Ansa quoted her as saying.
She reportedly said that she had been confident the children would be "sent back to Germany, and I would have found them again when I got up some money".
Italian prosecutors have said Ms Remhof could be charged with the offence under Italian law of abandoning a vulnerable person. German officials have said her parental rights may be withdrawn.
German police have said that Mr Schmidt was on the run after not returning to prison while on parole, while the children's biological father is serving a prison sentence for fatally mistreating a fourth child he had with Ms Remhof.