A teenager who allegedly hacked three boys to death in Siem Reap province on Saturday was rearrested yesterday evening, after escaping from police custody just before dawn.
A huge search operation was launched after Chhorn Chhen, 17, broke out of his police cell at 5am yesterday. The officers who were supposed to be guarding him were ostensibly elsewhere, preparing for a flag-saluting ceremony.
“We apprehended him [Chhen] at 6:10pm after a report from villagers that they saw him walking near the provincial police station,” deputy Siem Reap provincial police chief Thorng Sakun said. “Now we have sent him to a secret location, but it is somewhere from which he will not be able to escape again.”
Sakun blamed Chhen’s escape on staff neglecting their duties.
“It was very careless that they left the suspect without anyone standing by in the room,” he said. “We had secured the door with three locks, but there are two parts of the door, and the suspect broke the upper part, which is close to the ceiling, and escaped.”
Close-up photographs of the break-out scene obtained by the Post show that parts of the cell grill and door were badly corroded, which could have weakened the metal, making it easier for Chhen to force his way out.
Sakun added that the officer who was responsible for guarding Chhen would face a fine and possibly some other sanction.
Director of the National Police’s Child Protection Union James McCabe yesterday said the escape needed to be seen in context. “Escapes from custody happen all around the world,” he said. “It is just unfortunate that in this case it happened to involve a triple murder.”
Police would launch a full inquiry into what had happened, he added.
But the Siem Reap prison investigator for human rights NGO Licadho, Sar Sovannara, was more critical.
“If the suspect had been properly locked in detention, he might not have been able to escape,” he said.
Chhen was first arrested on Saturday in Kok Doung commune, Angkor Chum district, after he allegedly murdered three boys aged 8, 11 and 16 with a scythe, the oldest of whom was the target of the attack.
The suspected killer reportedly made a full confession, and told police he was jealous of the 16-year-old, whom he had spotted on a motorcycle with a girl he liked, and that he had killed the younger boys to eliminate witnesses to his crime.