A commune official in Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district killed herself and her 5-year-old son, and seriously injured her 17-year-old daughter in an apparent murder-suicide early yesterday morning, police said.
Another daughter sleeping downstairs managed to escape to safety with her grandmother.
Neighbours and employees of 41-year-old Yon Sonita, second-deputy commune chief in Chaktomuk commune, said she had incurred a sizeable debt in a tontine – an informal investment scheme – and had begged her husband, who lives abroad, for money to pay it, saying she would kill the children if he didn’t comply.
Police, however, said that while official details were in short supply, nothing in the house was missing, making it unlikely that the killings were the work of an intruder.
“We do not know the reason behind this suicide clearly yet, but the first step is that police concluded that the victim had a mental illness,” Daun Penh district police chief Nhem Saonol told the Post.
Police who examined the bodies found that the victim had stabbed herself in the stomach and chest, and her son in the stomach.
Som Ravy, who lived in the same house as the councillor and worked in her shop, said Sonita’s mother had told her Sonita had worked until 1am without exhibiting any abnormal behaviour.
Before going to bed, however, Sonita could be heard speaking to her US-based husband on the phone, demanding he send $3,000 to pay down her debt or she would kill their children.
According to Ravy, at about 2am, Sonita’s mother was awakened by the calls of her granddaughter as she rushed into the room covered in blood. The grandmother took the injured girl and her other granddaughter to Calmette Hospital, and returned to the house, only to find Sonita and her son dead.
Buth Vuthy, 57, Sonita’s landlady, said she had never seen any signs that Sonita was mentally ill.
“I heard that she committed suicide, because she was a mental patient,” she said. “I do not believe that, because when I came to collect the [rent] money, she did not appear to be a crazy woman.”
A fellow Chaktomuk commune official, who asked to be identified only as Sorphoan, said that about a week ago, Sonita had mentioned that she had considered suicide. Sorphoan was a member of the same tontine, and was also owed $3,000, along with others who often hounded Sonita.
“She killed herself because of the debt, and maybe she did not know what to do,” Sorphoan said.
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Ho Vann said Sonita, who had been elected to her post as a CNRP candidate, had been an intelligent and thoughtful councillor and never shown any signs of mental illness before.
“She was a good official, but I do not know whether she had any problems or not,” he said. “The party will donate some money for the treatment of [the injured daughter], because she will now be the leader of her family, and we have youth who will donate blood. And the bodies, we have social money for the funeral.”
According to Vann, the daughter now needs an operation and is slipping in and out of consciousness.