Grieving relatives of a promising young student and her mother, savagely killed with scythes in a village in Kampong Cham province on Tuesday morning, laid their bodies to rest yesterday.
Muon Chenda, a 20-year-old business administration student at Phnom Penh’s Build Bright University, was butchered by her stepfather, Laing Pises, just three days after she returned to the family home in Trapaing Boeung village, Thmor Poun commune, for the Pchum Ben holiday.
Chenda’s grandfather, Sek Kak, 84, who is also the village chief, spoke of his sorrow at the family’s loss.
“I feel so much suffering for her because she was an orphan from the age of four. Pises was jealous when she went to study in Phnom Penh and when she would visit with friends and relatives.
“In the past, they argued a lot, because Chenda had [male] friends from university – he thought she had lots of boyfriends.”
Sek Thou, Chenda’s mother, returned home from making an offering at the local pagoda at about 11am on Tuesday to find her daughter and husband in the midst of another row, relatives said. This time, the argument got out of hand.
Thou’s sister, Sek Than, 47, was in her house next door when she heard her sister’s screams.
“When I heard my sister shouting, I rushed to the house and saw my sister’s face at the window. She was in distress and there was blood on her face. I pleaded with [Pises] to stop, but he didn’t reply,” she said, adding that she called for help and contacted the police.
Domestic violence is prevalent in Cambodia, but the victims’ family said there was no history of physical abuse between Pises and his wife and stepdaugher.
“There were no previous instances of [domestic] violence,” said Chenda’s grandfather, “but they did argue a lot whenever [Chenda] came back from university.”
Pises used several large scythes to vent his rage, slashing the women’s throats as they tried to call for help, according to relatives. For the next two hours, a tense stand-off developed between Pises, the police and a mob of at least 500 villagers who surrounded the house.
As police attempted to talk him into laying down his weapons and surrendering, Pises taunted the crowd, laying his wife’s severed hand on a rail by his door and beckoning to the mob, police said.
“We tried to negotiate, and offered him a reduced sentence if he confessed,” said Keat Vithou, the Thmor Poun police chief. “But he just shut the door.”
Throughout the ordeal, Pises reportedly did not speak a word. The crowd eventually took the law into their own hands after the district police chief refused a request to use force to end the stand-off, lobbing a barrage of rocks at the house and eventually knocking Pises unconscious.
Pises was beaten to death by several members of the crowd, whom relatives described as friends Chenda would study with when she returned to Trapaing Boeung during the holidays.
Police dismissed rumours that Pises had raped Chenda before the attack, following a post-mortem examination of the body on Tuesday evening. The family agreed that they did not believe a sexual assault had occurred.
On the morning of the attack, commune nurse Sreng Sophea was called by Thou to examine Pises, who his wife thought looked ill. Sopho diagnosed him with high blood pressure and prescribed medication.
Pises had a history of mental illness, his brother, Liang Pisas, told police when he came to collect the body to transport it to Takeo province. But he said there had not been any serious problems since 2006, when family members in Takeo, where he was from, intervened and brought him to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
By the time Sopho had finished doing her rounds, she had learned of the attack. The 42-year-old nurse waited for the ambulance she called to arrive before giving up and heading to the scene of the attack herself.
“We were all so frightened. We hoped [we could save them], but it was hopeless.”
The family is planning to donate all of Pises’ property to the local monastery and demolish the house.
Chenda’s grandfather said the family would find solace in their faith.
“We have suffered a lot because of their deaths, but we will use Buddhist wisdom to get over the grief,” he said.