Rescue of 16-year-old Sapna : Joy, after eight months | Sunday Observer

Rescue of 16-year-old Sapna : Joy, after eight months

OIC Waruni Bogahawaththa
OIC Waruni Bogahawaththa

For eight long months, the parents of 16-year-old Sapna Wickramathilaka suffered and lived in anguish not knowing what had become of their daughter. She went missing on March 29. On a seemingly normal day, her father had dropped her off at an educational institute only to find his daughter gone on his return to pick her up, taken away by an individual close to the family. The parents were left helpless, unable to trace the whereabouts of their child despite complaining to the Police.

While investigations dragged on at a slow pace during the eight months by three Police stations, on being handed over the case just this week the Women and Children Bureau of the Matara Police Division led by its OIC Waruni Bogahawaththa were able to crack the case while also discovering the missing child in a mere 24 hours. As the parent’s anguish has now turned to joy thanks to the efforts of IP Bogahawatta the story is one of the tireless dedication of a female police officer and also one of warning to homeowners regarding the dangers of employing unknown persons.

Kidnapping

Relating the details of the case IP Bogahawatta says suspicion had already fallen on a driver employed by the family this year. A resident of Akmeemana, the driver Sandun Dinesh had been introduced to the family by a friend. “No background check was done prior to hiring him” Bogahawatta said adding that he was eventually let go of in three months due to his questionable and erratic behaviour. In fact, according to the officer he had been sacked due to an incident that should have been considered serious at the time.

“A month before the kidnapping on one particular day the child had got late to return home and was to be brought back by the driver” IP Bogahawatta explained adding that however the child had gone missing for several hours. It was then that a man said to be attached to the forces visited the house claiming that he is able to find the child but money might have to be spent for it. While this man was later found to be a friend of the driver, on realizing that the parents had lodged a complaint with the Police he had urged the driver to return the child. As the incident caused the driver to lose his job he appears to have harboured feelings of resentment and revenge against his employer.

According to IP Bogahawatta, if the law had been correctly enforced at this juncture the kidnapping and a second investigation could have been prevented, pointing out that the law had failed the child victim at the time.

Police say after he was sacked the driver had plotted the kidnap along with several accomplices. “In fact the child had told her parents that the driver had visited her class on several occasions and pointed her out to his friends,” she said. The child has now revealed that on the day of the kidnap she was forced to meet her eventual abductor as she was being blackmailed by him. He had claimed to have distributed photos of her to a friend in the underworld who had uploaded them online. “He asked me to meet him to show them to me,” the 16-year-old had told the Police.

Taken away in a three wheeler that day, it was eight months later that she was finally found being kept forcefully in a house located in Homagama by the abductor.

Investigation

Handed over the case this week, IP Bogahawatta was able to trace the girl in 24 hours but the investigation was no easy feat. First taking over all case particulars and additional information it was with these at hand that a team led by her visited the suspect’s home in Akmeemana on Wednesday this week.

“We questioned his father at length on the day which led us to a friend of the suspect in the village it self” she said. However on questioning him contradictions of their stories had arisen. “I took the opportunity to coax more information from them.” She said that the duo had attempted to lie and perhaps give more time for the suspect to escape or to warn him. “They kept asking for more time but I refused and said I am ready to go anywhere to recover the child,” she said.

While the father of the suspect and the friends’ statements led them to various places the whole village was in an uproar by midnight. Tracing phone numbers and even bank transactions while the Police had information at hand of several possible locations it was key that the information on the exact place was extracted from the father and the friend of Sandun Dinesh. Exhausted without meals and still in uniform donned the morning before, the team was led by the duo on a wild goose chase. “But I was ready to go to any length to find the child,” she said adding that it took them to Negombo at around 1 am on Thursday. But at Negombo the duo were at a loss and unable to say where the exact location of the suspect was. However faced with bank statements of the suspect showing recent transactions in Maharagama and Homagama they finally knew that he was holding the abducted child in Homagama.

Reaching Homagama around 3am they were finally led to a house in the interior part of the town having to even walk around half a kilometre to reach there. Tricked into opening the door by his father, Sandun Dinesh was finally apprehended and the child rescued by the Police.

“She was scared and crying” IP Bogahawatta said adding that the child claimed the man had threatened to kill her parents. Police in fact discovered Rs. 113,000 inside the house believed to have being collected by the suspect to purchase a firearm. While the child is yet to be handed over to her parents the suspect has been remanded pending court process.

Due diligence

While this case has ended on a positive note, IP Bogahawatta points out that not doing background checks on staff can lead to serious issues and even tragic situations. “Homeowners especially parents must check as to who they are hiring,” she said adding that people should not provide opportunities to criminals.

Meanwhile she also opined that the law must spring into action in all cases related to children. “As time passes investigations should not slow down as in this case” she said adding that it is unfair on the aggrieved parties. “I think these are the lessons we can learn from this case” she said. While pleased with the outcome of the case IP Bogahawatta says she will continue to put in maximum effort to help those in need as the relief and happiness of the victims along with their families only continues to strengthen her resolve to serve the public. 

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