suong town, Kompong Cham province – Sann Mol walked down a winding dirt footpath into dense, thorny bushes and thick, leafy vines before stopping at the edge of a cassava field and pointing to a small clearing. There, he said yesterday, is where villagers found the body of 11-year-old Chea Sovatey.
Mr Mol mimicked how the body was found, the young girl’s face laying in profile against the ground with one arm bent back behind her head.
He said police officers cut down the surrounding cassava plants to investigate the scene, leaving behind stumps and two pairs of latex gloves. Villagers trampled the adjacent undergrowth while craning for a view of the gruesome discovery but now say they are afraid to venture near the location.
“It is unthinkable, very brutal,” Mr Mol said of the gang rape and murder of the young girl on Saturday night by a group of local youths.
“I have never seen anything like this,” Mr Mol said, shaking his head.
Saturday’s brutal crime has stunned Vihear Luong commune, leaving residents here on the outskirts of Suong town with more questions than answers.
Police have arrested seven young men in connection with the rape and murder of Sovatey, saying the group confessed to repeatedly raping the girl though only the alleged ringleader, 20-year-old Tes Sompouv, was responsible for then stabbing her multiple times with a knife and slashing her throat.
Police said that Tes Sompouv rendered the girl unconscious, carried her to a secluded spot, and then invited his six friends who took turn sexually assaulting the child.
“I cannot find a word to name him,” local resident Thoeun Then said of the accused.
The six other suspects are Seang Chumnit, 18; Phan Mao, 19; So Kavey, 20; Ma Lin, 20; Soy Savin, 22; and Pen Somol, 23, police said.
Suong police chief Leang Eng said officers are still looking for the knife used to stab Sovatey 12 times and slash her throat. The police chief also told a bizarre story of how the murder suspect, Tes Sampouv, was in love with the 11-year-old girl but raped and killed her out of fear that she would reveal his emotions to others.
Kompong Cham Provincial Court Chief Prosecutor Hout Vuthy said that police have asked the court for another day to continue gathering evidence, adding the court is slated to charge the group today and refer the case to an investigating judge.
Several residents said that Tes Sompouv’s supposed orchestration of the attack was shocking, given the fact that he was a neighbor of the girl and was considered a friend.
Sovatey’s mother, Hang Yeat, said the pair—though nearly a decade apart in age—grew up together under the same roof, their one-story homes separated by a concrete wall. Working as a midwife, Ms Yeat told how she even helped deliver Tes Sompouv.
“I never had any problem with this family,” she said. “The relationship between my daughter and the criminal was just like a brother and a sister.”
Ouk Siyoeun, Sovatey’s half-sister, described her deceased sibling as a homebody who excelled at school. She also called the police chief’s explanation of the alleged motive bogus.
“What kind of love is that?” Ms Siyoeun said.
Chok Somein was the first to find Sovatey. She was in the area tending to her cattle when she overheard villagers looking for the victim and shouting her name. Mrs Somein joined the search and came across the girl underneath the shrubs. She said the sight left her unable to sleep for two days.
“When I saw the body I yelled and I cried,” she said, describing the young girl’s bloodstained white shirt and raised skirt. “I am scared and I dare not to go there again.”
Tes Sompouv’s mother, Chha Reit, said she never imagined her son would be capable of such a crime.
Living next door to the victim’s family for 30 years, she said she joined other villagers in their Sunday morning search for the girl after she went missing the night before. Mrs Reit said she was crushed and furious when police came to question and arrest her son.
“I hate him. I get very angry and I do not even bring him food” while he is in police custody, she said.
Mrs Reit said she knew little of a possible motive for the rape and killing. Of late, she said, her son had become more disobedient, staying out late at night drinking with friends, remaining defiant against his parents’ requests.
“He has never listened to us,” she said.
Unemployed until recently and with little formal schooling, Tes Sompouv worked briefly as a motorbike repairman, fixing wheels and other problems a few hours a day at a shop across from his parent’s home. Shop owner You Then said he was a quiet youth who showed little ambition.
“He repaired motos one to two hours a day and then left,” said Ms Then, 40. “He did not do much work.”