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
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,
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
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
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
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.