A weeklong manhunt for the lone suspect in a brutal ax attack on a family in Sihanoukville, which left a mother and daughter dead, ended on Thursday with the arrest of a 26-year-old man in Kandal province, officials said.
The family was sleeping in two beds at their home in Muoy commune when an assailant entered in the early hours of December 29 and spent 15 minutes hacking a 31-year-old woman, her 67-year-old mother, and her five children aged between 1 and 13 years old, according to police.
Kong Phearum, the father and husband, was fishing at sea when the attack occurred. Oum Phana, his wife, died last week at the Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital in Phnom Penh, while their 13-year-old daughter died en route to Phnom Penh for emergency medical treatment.
Following Thursday’s arrest, those investigating the case identified the suspect as Luy Sopheak, whom they believe was feuding with Oum Phana.
“At around 9:15 a.m. this morning, using a combination of investigative techniques and police intelligence, we arrested him at an associate’s house in Kandal,” said James McCabe, director of the Child Protection Unit (CPU), which helped coor- dinate the investigation.
“This was one of the largest manhunts we’ve had, over a six-day-and-night period and requiring the cooperation of 5 different provinces.”
Mr. McCabe said that the suspect was identified on the night of the attack through interviews with neighbors and witnesses. The couple’s 10-year-old daughter remained conscious during the attack and alerted neighbors after the assailant left the house.
Chuon Narin, chief of police in Preah Sihanouk province, said that initial leads directed police to Tbong Khmum province.
“As we continued to investigate, we received reports that the man had moved to Mok Kampoul district in Kandal province—so we sent our forces there,” he said.
Nou Savuth, Mok Kampoul deputy district police chief, said that he was alerted by the Interior Ministry on January 4 that the suspect had likely arrived in his district.
While searching for a man matching the description of Mr. Sopheak, the deputy police chief said he received a photograph of the suspect from the Interior Ministry —as well as numerous tip-offs from locals who were suspicious of their new neighbors.
“I investigated and found that the suspect and his family were living with his friend, after we spoke to a moto-taxi driver who had transported him,” Mr. Savuth said.
Upon being captured, Mr. Sopheak was found with a mobile phone that pinned him down to the victim’s home in the early hours of December 29, according to Mr. McCabe of the CPU.
The suspect eventually confessed to the attack, claiming that it was an act of revenge, according to Mr. Savuth.
Mr. Narin, the provincial police chief, said that the suspect was sent to the provincial criminal investigation department on Thursday afternoon for further questioning.
“During initial questioning, we found that he had an argument with Oum Phana,” he said.
“We are treating this as premeditated murder…and we will send him to provincial court tomorrow,” he added. “I think he tried to kill the whole family because he didn’t want the family to remember his face.”
Three of the children injured in the attack remain in stable condition at Kantha Bopha hospital, according to Mr. Phearum, the husband, who said his mother-in-law and youngest son had returned home.
(Additional reporting by Tej Parikh)