A teenager who was arrested on Saturday for allegedly murdering three boys with a machete in rural Siem Reap province escaped from a holding cell at the provincial police headquarters in his underwear early on Monday morning—only to be recaptured in the evening.
Deputy provincial police chief Thong Sokun said the suspect, 17-year-old Chhon Chen, escaped at about 5:30 a.m. when all 10 officers on duty went to freshen up for a regular Monday morning meeting. The officers had been on duty since 10 a.m. on Sunday, he said, and were due to be relieved at 6 a.m.
“The suspect bent the bars until they were curved and escaped while the police officers went to the bathroom to prepare themselves for the Monday morning gathering,” Brigadier General Sokun said.
After the escape, dozens of plainclothes police officers, assisted by military police, were deployed to scour Siem Reap City for the teenager, he said.
“We sent 60 police officers wearing civilian clothes to search every pagoda, every empty plot of land, every farm—every part of the city—to find the suspect.”
The officers were also sent door to door to inform residents about the escaped prisoner, urging them to call police if they spotted him, according to Brig. Gen. Sokun.
Twelve hours later, someone did just that, when a hungry and thirsty Chen—still clad only in his underwear—emerged from a wooded area just 700 meters from the police station, he said.
“Right now, police have given him food for eating, water, and changed his cell,” he said, adding that Chen would be sent to the Siem Reap Provincial Court tomorrow.
Brig. Gen. Sokun said the suspect would have faced the extra obstacle of being handcuffed while in custody, if not for the complaints of local rights groups.
“So we stopped handcuffing suspects and just stripped their clothes, leaving them in their underwear,” he said.
The general said that he and a court prosecutor, whom he did not name, visited the holding cells at the police station on Monday, and that the vertical steel bars above the door of Chen’s former cell—which are about a half-meter tall and designed to provide ventilation—were bent, while three locks on the door were still secure. He added that the 10 officers on duty at the time of the escape would be punished according to internal disciplinary procedures.
Chen was arrested at his home in Angkor Chum district on Saturday, hours after using a machete to murder three boys—ages 8, 13 and 16—and stealing a 2011 Honda Dream they had been driving, police said.
The oldest of the boys, Mech Kanha, was likely the target of the attack, having fallen in love with a young woman also coveted by Chen, according to police, who said the teenager confessed to as much on Sunday.
In Angkor Chum’s Kok Doung commune on Monday, the families of the three victims were holding funeral ceremonies when they received news of the escape, according to commune chief Kem Kham.
“Now, our villagers are scared to go to their cassava farms because they are near the place where the killer attacked those three boys,” he said.
“They are shocked,” he said of the boy escaping from prison. “And they ask: How?”