Less than a week into the New Year, a man on a bicycle approached a group of children walking home from school.
A robber was just up the road, the man wearing a medical mask allegedly told the group of 7- and 8-year-olds. They should hide with him in the woods.
Once there, the “good Samaritan” ordered the children to remove their clothes and lie down with their eyes closed, police said. He then picked out one 8-year-old, raped her and rode away on a motorbike he had stored nearby.
Word of the attack in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district quickly spread.
“As a result [of the rape] there were additional [police] patrols … focused around school buildings,” James McCabe, operations manager at the Phnom Penh-based Child Protection Unit, said yesterday.
And it appears to have worked. On Monday, McCabe and district police in Banteay Meanchey said, authorities caught a man who confessed to the previous rape after allegedly attempting to do the same thing again. Moun Seth, a 21-year-old construction worker will appear in Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court this morning. He is charged with kidnapping and rape, McCabe said.
Luckily, the group of nine schoolchildren in the same district who came across Seth on Monday had been warned about him and were suspicious when he approached them as they left school at about 1:30pm, saying there were “robbers up the street”, McCabe said.
Seth then grabbed a 12-year-old off her bicycle, said Hor Samnath, Mongkol Borei’s deputy police chief. The girl screamed for help, scaring off the man and attracting the attention of police, who had been on alert since the first attack.
Police caught up with Seth a few hours later. They gathered together victims of the first attack, who identified Seth’s Dream 125cc motorbike, Samnath said.
During questioning, Samnath said, Seth confessed to the January 6 rape, before offering a laundry list of mitigating factors.
“The suspect admitted that he raped the girl and forced the other children to take off their clothes,” Samnath said. Seth told police he committed the crime “because he was drunk and his wife was pregnant . . . the suspect also used drugs”.
Based on the seemingly premeditated nature of the first attack and Monday’s alleged attempt, police continued questioning Seth and are looking into his history to see if the suspect could be responsible for other unsolved rapes, McCabe and Samnath said.
Samnath yesterday said that Seth was detained at the district police station, and documents to send him to Banteay Meanchey Provincial Court were being prepared. McCabe said Seth is expected in court this morning.
McCabe yesterday praised police in Banteay Meanchey’s Mongkol Borei district police for their response to the first incident, which led to Seth’s arrest.
“The arrest of this defendant is a testament to the work of the [local] police department,” he said. “The attacks were planned and it is unlikely they would have stopped.”