Torching of student Bernie Sapon | Sunday Observer

Torching of student Bernie Sapon

4 December, 2022

On November 25, Bernie Sapon of St. Clements College, Ampitiya was among the many students who received his GCE (O/L) results for the year 2021. Sapon had received six A’s, two B’s and one C at the examination, passing it with flying colours.

Young Sapon’s father was a sales manager of a finance company in Katugastota while his mother was a homemaker, staying at home to care for Sapon and his two-year-old brother.

On November 26, Sapon’s aunt had prepared a dinner at her home in honour of his success at the examination. While Sapon lived in Pallegama, Ampitiya, his aunt lived in a rented house in Seminary Watta, Ampitiya. The distance between the two houses through narrow short cuts was a mere kilometre.


On that day Sapon along with his father had set out on foot to his aunt’s home. His mother and younger brother had decided to stay back. Following dinner, Sapon and his father left his aunt’s residence around 8.30 p.m intending to return home safe only to be accosted by a man holding a torch near the Tamil College in Ampitiya.

The man had demanded to know who Sapon and his father were and what they were doing in the area. While the duo remained silent, the man continued to question them in anger. While they attempted to avoid the man and set out once again, the man then hurls a can containing petrol at Sapon’s father.

Fearing for his father’s life Sapon steps in front of his father to shield him believing the man would back down. But instead the man throws the lit torch at Sapon, setting him on fire.

Sapon now lit up like a human torch runs away from his father in a last ditch attempt to protect him. He rolls on the grass, managing to douse the fire himself. However, Sapon had already received significant burn injuries. His father with Sapon in his arms runs to the Kandy Teaching Hospital in a bid to save his son’s life.


The incident was reported to the Kandy Police by the Police post at the Kandy hospital. But appearing to be disinterested, the Police fail to even visit the spot where the incident occured. While the Police told the media that several Police teams have been assigned to investigate, certain top police men also said the suspect had fled the area.

However as the media brought to light the horrific incident on November 29, the Police finally swings into action. Prior to this, the Police had even failed to inform Senior DIG in Charge of the Central Province, Sanjeewa Dharmarathna of the crime.

However Dharmarathna had already managed to elicit information about the suspect through the intelligence services. The suspect was identified as Buwelle Gedara Malith Nisansala Sanjeewa alias Pathum, a known troublemaker in Ampitiya.

The Suspect

A heavy drug user, the 28-year-old living in Ihala Tennekumbura, Ampitiya was often known to be seen bearing a sword. The reports revealed he was involved in many crimes including extorting money from people.

Dharmarathna had been informed that Pathum would often walk about with a sword in hand and was ready to attack anyone who irks him.

Since the incident, the Police have now been accused of failing to investigate many prior complaints against the suspect, allowing him to carry out his criminal activities without any hindrance. The people of Ampitiya too had lost faith in the system and despite repeated complaints of Pathum’s threats and extortion the Police had failed to take any action against him.


According to the residents in the area, Pathum’s father was a known thug and criminal in the area called ‘Idichcha’. He is said to have extorted money off sellers in the Kandy market for many years. On March 18, 2010 Idichcha was hacked to death by a group in front of the Kandy market where he had once ruled. The attackers had hacked his hands off which were later found by the Police under a culvert in the Bahirawakanda area.

Idichcha had been murdered in the same manner that yet another gangster in the Bogambara area called ‘Tony’ was killed two years prior. Idichcha was accused of Tony’s death and was killed six months after being released from prison. It is said some in the market celebrated Idichcha’s death by cooking milk rice and lighting crackers.

Though several suspects were arrested for his killing, they are now out on bail. This group included a former Councillor of the Kandy Municipal Council. A group led by this Councillor now rules the Kandy market following Idichcha’s death.

Due to Pathum’s extortion activities many businesses have left the area including a clothing business and a salon. The family that ran these businesses in Ampitiya have now relocated to Polonnaruwa. It is said more families have been considering leaving Ampitiya for the same reasons. The area’s Police claiming they were unaware of these issues is a mere fallacy.

According to information by the intelligence services, people in Ampitiya have been living in fear due to Pathum with 17 complaints being lodged against him. The Police had not only failed to execute an open warrant and three date warrants against the suspect, they had even failed to enter this information in their records.

The Kandy Police had only taken steps to do the needful after receiving a dressing down from Senior DIG Dharmarathna. It is also expected the Police will conduct an inquiry against officers who failed to carry out their duties.

Island reconvicted Criminals

Pathum, who set fire to Bernie Sapon, was entered into the Island reconvicted Criminals (IRC) list in 2016. It is said Pathum had begun his career in crime with the gang that was accused of nailing two men to a cross in the Balagolla area in 2021.

The leader of the gang, 38-year-old Dushmantha, who had run a devalaya in Ampitiya and another area continues to be incarcerated for the crime. He is also accused of sexually assaulting women who visited his devalaya. The two men who were nailed to a cross, had earned his wrath for revealing the truth about his scams on social media.

According to sources, in the meantime his group is being led by a cousin of his identified as ‘Kalu Asitha’. While Pathum and Kalu Asitha were close, carrying out many crimes since 2015 together, Pathum has since set up his own gang after his one time friend became close to the former Municipal Councillor who was involved in the killing of his father Idichcha.

Pathum is said to barge into homes both day and night to make away with property belonging to others. It is said he is often armed with a sword and a knuckle duster. Roaming around at night, he is said to often be in hiding during the day time. He is said to visit his child and wife once in a blue moon as well.


According to sources, Pathum had set fire to Sapon after his attempt to extort money from the father - son duo failed. However Pathum had managed to secure Rs. 10, 000 to purchase drugs by terrorising a homeowner nearby, threatening to set his house on fire.

But many such incidents now go unreported as the people in Ampitiya have lost faith in the Police believing it is protecting the criminals instead. Many in the area believe had the Police carried out their duties, Pathum would have been arrested and imprisoned many years ago.

Prior to Sapon being set on fire, in early November the Police had received another complaint against Pathum. In it he was accused of tying a three wheeler driver identified as Duraj Madhushanka to an electricity pole and injuring him with sharp weapons.


The incident had taken place in Meekanuwa, Ampitiya while Madhushanka continues to receive treatment in hospital to this day. The only reason the complaint was lodged with the Police as Madhushanka had to be hospitalised for his injuries. However, no investigation had been carried out into the incident, resulting in several youth in the area deciding to take matters into their own hands and physically assault one of Pathum’s gang members.

While the Police had taken no action against Pathum, they had taken immediate steps to arrest several of the youth involved in the assault instead. The Police had even intervened to secure Rs. 100,000 in compensation for Pathum’s friend for the assault on him.

Many believe Pathum was emboldened by the action of the Police leading him to set fire to young Sapon and the Police only went into overdrive to investigate the issue due to the media coverage.

It is said that Pathum had even threatened a youth in Kurusakanda, Ampitiya and stolen his Apple iphone just moments before being arrested by the Police.

According to the Police, Pathum had attempted to escape during the arrest and fallen down a 15 foot precipice along with two Police personnel in the process. Pathum who had allegedly fractured his foot, along with the two police personnel who suffered minor injuries are now receiving treatment at the Kandy Hospital. However, the Police has failed to acknowledge that it was the residents of Ampitiya in fact that apprehended Pathum and handed him over to the Police.

Following the arrest, the Police have been able to recover a hand grenade, a can of fuel, the knuckle duster and 720 grams of cannabis that were in his possession. However, they have failed to recover the sword Pathum was often seen with.

It is only at the end of all these incidents that the Police finally decide to pay a visit to the residents of Ampitiya and hold several meetings in a bid to gain their trust.


According to information received, instead of the Police having any connection to Pathum as accused, what appears is that the Kandy Police had failed to or rather chose not to act on complaints and carry out their duties, instead opting to while away their time in the Police station allowing criminals such as Pathum to carry out their crimes and terrorise the people of Kandy.