Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Murdered girl highlights problem of youth crime

Murdered girl highlights problem of youth crime

Murdered girl highlights problem of youth crime

A NINE-year-old schoolgirl was kidnapped from an inner-city primary school and murdered

on Dec 26 by one of the feared Bong Thom youth gangs, again highlighting Cambodia's

problem of juvenile violence.

The girl, Ho Chou, was distantly related to the main suspect, 16-year-old Bong Thom

leader Noun Chansorya. Witnesses are scared of Sorya's potential to avenge himself

even though he has been charged and locked away in a Kandal prison cell.

Chou's family paid a $4,000 cash ransom on the same day she was taken. They had not

told police and had waited without sleep, their shop doors open throughout that night,

for Chou to return.

They only learned of their daughter's death - drugged by injection, then her neck

broken and body thrown into a pond - when they saw her photograph on the front of

Koh Santepheap newspaper late the next morning.

That afternoon, a distant relative - the teenage son of a life-long family friend

- rode past their shop, giving them a wave. They managed a smile back. It was Sorya.

On Dec 30 he was arrested for murder, along with Kour Sophea, 17, a first year student

at Phnom Penh University's College of Information.

Chou's family are well enough off but not rich. Her father, Lan Khun, opened his

motorbike parts shop in 1979.

Chou, the youngest of three children, "was clever, always No. 1 or No. 2 in

her class," said Khun. She heeded her parents warnings not to talk to strangers

and had been taught by teachers at Santhor Mok primary school about the dangers of

kidnappers.

Kidnapping is rife among children of the rich or near-rich, especially in the city.

Special anti-kidnap police squads have been established but most cases are dealt

with in the same way that Chou's family handled her's: shut up, pay up and be careful

in the future.

Chou used to leave school each day to wait at a relative's house - Sorya's family

- to be picked up by one of her parents. On Dec 26 at 9:15am she gave her bag to

a friend to mind, saying she was leaving on Sorya's moto.

By 11am she was already dead, in all probability, and Sorya was making the first

of two phone calls to Chou's mother, Ngor Hong, disguising his voice and demanding

$20,000. He was eventually bargained down to $15,000, to $10,000, to $6,000, finally

to $4,000, most of which Hong borrowed from relatives. She stuffed the cash into

a black plastic bag and took it to a drop-off at another school, Yukanthor High,

at 2pm.

There, according to instructions, she met a boy barely older than her missing daughter,

"shaking with fright". He said he was the courier, grabbed the bag and

ran off. The family waited.

On Dec 27 Koh Santepheap ran a close-up photo of a dead girl in a white school blouse,

people trying to revive her. "I saw my daughter," Khun said.

After police arrested Sorya and his alleged accomplice, Sopheak, the family thought

it "un-believeable," said Khun.

"We knew [Sorya] was not a good person. He wore an earring. He did not sleep

at home. But we did not think Sorya would do anything with our daughter.

"He knew Chou very, very well, like a sister."

The sordid story strikes close to a grave social ill that Cambodia's new generation

is facing.

People who know Sorya will only talk about him anonymously. There're not surprised

that he - allegedly - has turned out to be a killer. Those who cooperated with police

are especially worried they could be next.

Sorya comes from a well-to-do family, fitting the generalization of Bong Thom leaders.

They're from rich and powerful clans and attract natural born followers.

Sorya, said one teacher, left Santhor Mok three years ago, illiterate "but not

stupid, [he was] intelligent", however unable or unwilling to keep up with his

classmates. He was a leader with a "film-star's body". And capable of killing?

"Yes," he said, "even the 12 or 13-year-old boys in his group would

kill people."

He said that Chou's classmate who told police she saw her friend going off with Sorya

was "very, very scared. She has had to change class. Her parents cry every day,

and are angry at their daughter for telling [the police] this information".

"We have also changed [Chou's] teacher from her old class. She was afraid she

would receive persecution by Sorya's friends.

"Even I have been worried. I was told secretly by police to watch out."

Police warned him that Sorya's Bong Thom colleagues could easily seek revenge. Friends

advised him to carry a gun to school.

Santhor Mok is little different than any other State school, teachers say. School

administrators have hired security guards because although the police say they're

only a phone call away, in reality they often arrive too late to help.

The teacher painted a picture of gang members armed with guns, sometimes shooting

at other gangs who menace different schools. The teacher said that teachers are sometimes

asked to walk security detail themselves, armed with ICOM walkie-talkies and handguns.

He said richer families were hiring armed bodyguards to watch over their children,

even while they're in class. "I'm happy about this because it makes the gang

members scared."

The most recent aspect of Chou's killing involves another story run by Koh Santepheap

Jan 4. Sorya and Sopheak did not confess to Chou's killing, the paper cited a "clear

source" as saying, noting particularly that "Chan [Sorya]... did not give

a remarkable confession". The paper said that six boys had originally been arrested

but released after paying $60 to police to pay for broken glass on a police car.

Sopheak only paid $30, so police were angry and didn't let him go.

Some people with knowledge of the case suggested that because the $4,000 ransom was

still missing, they wouldn't be surprised if investigating police eventually found

that Sorya and Sopheak had nothing to do with Chou's killing.

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