An American police officer accused of sexually abusing children committed suicide Tuesday morning by shooting himself in the head at Phnom Penh’s municipal anti-human trafficking police headquarters, officers said.
Donald Rene Ramirez, a 50-year-old from San Francisco, California, was charged by Phnom Penh Municipal Court with debauchery Sunday for allegedly abusing two girls aged 11 and 14.
Detained at the police headquarters, Ramirez used a mop handle to drag a police officer’s K-54 handgun, which was under a guard’s pillow where he had been sleeping on a fold up bed, into his cell at about 6 am, said Keo Thea, deputy municipal anti-human trafficking police chief.
“He shot himself with one bullet [in the temple] and when he fell down, the gun fired another bullet into the wall because his hand was on the trigger,” Keo Thea told reporters outside his department offices in Tuol Kok district.
“[The incident] should not make the international community feel suspicious that we assassinated him. We have no involvement,” Keo Thea said. “We could not have known about this event in advance,” he said.
US Embassy spokesman Jeff Daigle confirmed that Ramirez died while in police custody, but said he could not comment about how it had happened. He said that the embassy is not conducting an investigation at this time, but added: “We are following the Cambodian investigation closely.”
Ramirez was arrested on Thursday morning along with his alleged 14-year-old victim’s Vietnamese mother, Ho Tien, who was also charged for her allegedly role in pimping her daughter to the US national, Keo Thea said.
After Ho Tien left Ramirez’s ground-floor apartment in Toul Kok district with her daughter, police arrested her and raided his home, where they found another girl aged 11, he said.
Keo Thea added that semen found on the two girls during an examination at the SOS International Medical and Dental Clinic has been sent to the US for analysis.
Municipal Court Deputy Prosecutor Ngeth Sarath said on Sunday that the 14-year-old girl alleged that she had sex with Ramirez and was paid between $200 and $400 each month. However, Ramirez denied the allegations of sexual abuse, Ngeth Sarath told the Associated Press on Monday.
Ramirez had traveled regularly to Cambodia over the past 12 years, Keo Thea said.
Keo Thea added that police officers on duty always keep their guns under their pillows while they sleep. On this occasion, a guard outside Ramirez’s cell had left his gun unattended while he went to the toilet on Tuesday morning, he said.
“As [the guard] finished, two shots were heard. He ran in and saw that his cot was near our temporary detention cell,” Keo Thea said.
Keo Thea said Ramirez yelled out to Ho Tien, who was in the cell next door, “I don’t want to live.”
At the anti-trafficking police headquarters at about noon, Ramirez’s body was transferred to Calmette Hospital under the supervision of a US Embassy official.
This is not the first time a foreign pedophile suspect has made a suicide bid.
Police have said that German child sex abuse suspect Henning Karl-Heinz Opitz attempted suicide twice in August-once during his arrest when he leapt from his third-floor apartment, and again while under police guard at Calmette Hospital, when he tried to cut his wrists.
Neighbors of Ramirez, who rented an apartment off Street 233, in Tuol Kok’s Phsar Depot II commune, said they were shocked by the news of his death.
“He never had a drinking party. He never disturbed the neighbors,” said one woman who lived opposite Ramirez.
“Maybe he killed himself because he felt embarrassed,” she said. But she added: “I think the allegation is not true.”
Ramirez’s landlord said that his tenant was quiet and had been paying rent since Nov 10, 2005.
“I never suspected him and after I rented him the house there was no problem so I never checked,” he said.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul, Pin Sisovann, Douglas Gillison, Kim Chan and James Welsh)