Six years after being shot in the neck and hip by a masked man on her way to English class, singer Pov Panhapich on Sunday gave her first public performance since the attack, which left her paralyzed from the waist down, during a fundraising event at Pannasastra University in Phnom Penh.
Hundreds of students cheered as Ms. Panhapich, 30, began singing from behind a projector screen, which slowly rose to reveal a seated singer who looked and sounded remarkably similar to the time before her ability to walk was stolen from her in what police said at the time had the makings of a revenge attack.
“If we still have life, we have a destiny, so honey don’t be hopeless,” Ms. Panhapich sang in Khmer from an armchair wearing a flowered white dress, in the first of a three-song set.
“The sky will be clear after the scattered rain, so why don’t we dare to smile and hope for another day,” she sang.
Though the strength of her voice has been hindered by the bullet that entered her throat, where she now has an inch-long scar across her neck, Ms. Panhapich’s wide smile echoed her looks from before her attack, when she was a fixture in karaoke videos and on the Apsara television channel.
After each song, fans streamed onto the stage to give her roses, which piled up on her lap as the set went on.
Speaking after her performance, which was part of a fundraising event for Drop Everything and Read, a nationwide literacy program run by Pannasastra students, Ms. Panhapich said that she had given up hope that police will track down those responsible for shooting her when she was 23 years old.
“I didn’t ask about this issue and the police haven’t told me anything. I just focus on how to make my health better and improve my quality of life,” she said, adding that part of her motivation to return to the stage is that she is struggling to pay her medical bills.
“I can’t walk anywhere and my health is poor, but I am becoming better and I can still sing,” she said before going onstage. “Although I have become a disabled person, my mind has not become disabled.”
After she was shot by what witnesses said was a masked man on the back of a motorcycle, Ms. Panhapich was rushed to Calmette Hospital in Phnom Penh in a critical condition before being sent to a hospital in Vietnam, where she spent months recovering.
On the morning after she was shot, hundreds of fans and music industry colleagues gathered outside the hospital in an outpouring of support for Ms. Panhapich.
Days after the attack, police arrested four men for illegal possession of weapons, but none of them were ever charged in relation to the shooting of Ms. Panhapich.
Ms. Panhapich is among a spate of young starlets who over the past 15 years have been victims of brutal attacks in which the perpetrators have never been brought to justice.
Popular singer Touch Srey Nich was shot twice in the face and once in the neck in 2003 by gunmen who also shot her mother dead in front of her eyes. Then 24, she was eventually given asylum in the U.S., where she remains paralyzed from the neck down.
Karaoke video actress and singer Tat Marina had her face and parts of her body disfigured in 1999 after being attacked with acid by the jealous then-wife of Council of Ministers Secretary of State Svay Sitha. Ms. Marina is also now living in asylum in the U.S. where she received years of treatment to rebuild her face.
In that same year, Piseth Pilika, one of Cambodia’s most beloved movie actresses and most accomplished classical dancers, was gunned down at close range on a busy street corner near Phnom Penh’s O’Russei market.
No one has ever been arrested for her killing, though about 20 members of Piseth Pilika’s extended family were given political asylum in France amid claims she was killed for being the mistress of a very senior CPP government official.
Seated in the back of the audience at Sunday’s performance by Ms. Panhapich, Svay Sodany, a 23-year-old international relations student, said she was proud to see the singer, whose songs have remained popular among young Cambodians, performing in public once again.
“She is brave to show her face again after what happened to her,” Ms. Sodany said, adding that the failure by authorities to track down Ms. Panhapich’s attackers, or those of her slain and injured colleagues in the entertainment industry, was both upsetting and predictable.
“All the things that have happened to actresses and singers and none of them have been solved,” she said. “It’s common not to have justice in Cambodia. And I am quite sad about that.”