By Munira Mustaffa
It began with an innocent visit to the night market.
On the evening of August 20th 2007, 8-year old Nurin Jazlin Jazimin asked her mother for permission to run down to the neighbourhood’s night market. She wanted to buy hair grips for herself. Her mother, Norazian Bistaman, was entertaining a guest at that time. She said ok, thinking that Nurin was going to be accompanied by her younger sister. Her daughters usually go out either in a buddy-system or in groups. It never occurred to her that Nurin had decided to venture out by herself.
Nurin slipped out and made her way towards the night market, located approximately 100m away from the family flat. The family lived in Wangsa Maju, one of Kuala Lumpur’s largest townships. It is known to be a busy area, day or night, even busier with the hustle and bustle of the weekly night market that takes place every Monday evening. Who would have thought that a century ago, a vast rubber estate once stood here? Since the township was formed in 1984, Wangsa Maju has transformed itself over the years, from a quiet rural area and finally developed into one of Kuala Lumpur’s characteristic bustling urban quarters. Population has doubled over the years.
The night market scene where Nurin was headed to was far from idyllic. Night markets, synonymous with Malaysian culture, are usually very busy and very popular with Malaysians to shop for their fresh vegetables, fruits and meat as an alternative to supermarkets. Youths enjoy taking a stroll through night-markets, sampling a wide variety of drinks and goodies sold there.
Yet, despite the bustling atmosphere of the night market, the shoppers failed to notice anything out of the ordinary. The only witness to the abduction was another little girl, who had innocently assumed that Nurin was being taken home by someone she knew, perhaps a relative.
Meanwhile, back at home, Nurin’s parents grew frantic when they realized their little girl had not returned. The night was getting late. Father, Jazimin Abd. Jalil, who worked as a cab-driver, knew immediately that something was wrong. He went out to search for his missing daughter without success, despite help from concerned relatives and neighbours. The traders at the night market had not seen her since her last purchase and could offer no clue. They were familiar with her as the Jazimin family were regular customers. The exhausted Jazimin finally trudged over to the local police station to lodge a report about his missing daughter. It was already 3 a.m. in the morning; approximately 7 hours since the abduction had taken place. The kidnapper had a head start. In Malaysia, the standard procedure for a missing person’s report is the standard 24-hours wait. That is for missing adults. However, it is uncertain if the wait applies to missing children as well. If it is, then it is an issue that needs to be addressed immediately to prevent dire consequences. Parents need to know how soon they should approach the police for help. At present, there is an increasing public pressure for an immediate alert response to take place when a child goes missing.
According to a recent report, precisely 6,240 missing children and teenagers have been reported since January 2004. Only 67% of them have returned safely. There have been 34 cases of children below the age of nine filed missing between January and July this year. 17 of them have been recovered. Half of them are runaways. A number of them are parental kidnappings, common in messy divorces or separations.
But a stranger abduction case is the most alarming. While it is not a common occurrence, representing only half of the smaller percentage of missing children cases per year, it is usually the more likely to be fatal. Most of the missing children are female. There have been too many cases of these victims being sexually assaulted of late. In 2004, a 10-year old girl, Harirawati, was raped and murdered in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. Not two weeks later, Nurul Huda Abdul Ghani, also 10, was raped and murdered in Johor. It was reported that not long ago, around July 2007, two girls aged five and six respectively were abducted and molested in the Kampung Baru area in separate events, not too far from Wangsa Maju.
In the event of a stranger abduction the very first 24 hours is the most crucial when a child goes missing. The next 24 hours is highly critical. The odds of a child’s survival greatly decreases every hour. In the United States of America, studies have estimated that 74% of children who are kidnapped and later found murdered are killed within the first three hours after being taken.
In Nurin’s case, it was most likely a crime of opportunity. It was not because her parents were consciously negligent. It was just pure bad luck that Nurin chose to brave that very night out alone for the first time, unaware that a predator was on the hunt for a potential victim close by.
Her disappearance made its way into the local newspapers. It hardly made headlines on the front-page news. A week later her mother, Norazian, tearfully appealed to the press for the first time for help locating her missing daughter. By now, the police officially classified the case as “kidnapping”.
The very next day, the little eyewitness stepped forward with her information. She had seen Nurin being persuaded by an unknown man to follow him, before being dragged and bundled into his white van. She even overheard Nurin saying “No!” repeatedly to the perpetrator. The case finally heated up. A large-scale search operation was organized to locate the missing girl in the areas of Wangsa Maju, Sentul, Kepong, Jinjang and Setapak. About 300 people, ranging from police officers, RELA members, City Hall personnel and Rukun Tetangga (the Neighbourhood Watch) volunteered.
Their search turned up nothing.
Nurin’s parents were in despair. Her disappearance was not the only thing that was worrying, it was the state of her health that they were concerned with as well. Nurin suffered from kidney problems and high blood pressure. The missing child required daily medical attention. She needed to return home.
By now, the snapshot of the smiling Nurin Jazlin Jazimin published nationwide to help aid the search has become a very familiar image with Malaysians. Her case finally became news priority and was highly publicized by then. Pamphlets with Nurin’s descriptions were distributed to the public, including foreigners, urging them to keep a lookout for her. Sensitive members of the public rang up the parents to offer their sympathies. There were also crank callers that hurled abuses and harsh criticisms towards them through text messages and phone calls, accusing them of being poor parents. Some were in the form of sick and tasteless pranks. Despite all these, Nurin’s parents continued to will themselves to remain strong. They waited patiently for any news regarding their beloved child. The Inspector-General of Police, Tan Sri Musa Hassan, continued to appeal to the public for any assistance and useful information. The police were running out of leads. Rewards for information were offered and increased nearly every week.
Unfortunately, this case offered no happy ending. The pleas of her parents for Nurin’s safe return went unheeded. No one else stepped forward offering any information. There was a tip off from a female caller that insisted she had spotted Nurin near Seremban, but it was dismissed as false information.
On September 17th, a company supervisor in Petaling Jaya stumbled across a large Diadora sports bag outside the company premises when she came to open the store. It was Monday morning. She initially thought the bag belonged to her employer who had just returned from a trip. But when the general manager of the company arrived 30 minutes later, it was discovered that the bag did not belong to him. Upon opening the bag to search for identification or clues to the owner, to his horror, he found a body within. He immediately alerted the police.
What followed next was a series of media circus.
The body in the bag was a female child, aged between 6 and 8. She had been sexually-assaulted and strangled. Reports confirmed that she died approximately 6 hours prior to being transported to the “dump site”. Nurin’s parents were alerted immediately. They rushed to the Kuala Lumpur Hospital for the identification procedure, barely able to brace themselves for the impending nightmare. Due to severe physical changes on the body caused by trauma, the husband and wife were unable to recognize her. They did not think it was Nurin. The body was initially presumed to be of a foreign child.
But the subsequent DNA testing proved that the body in the morgue was indeed their child. By 8 o’clock on Thursday, the story made headlines on the evening news on TV. What was worse, the media blatantly accused the parents of refusing to accept the DNA test results. It was a great shock for Jazimin and his wife when the news came on. They were not informed of any forensics testing results, yet there it was, already announced nationwide. Due to misleading reports, there were public speculations that he was orchestrating a “conspiracy” to cover up his daughter’s death. Later, they met up with the police again to find out about the DNA test and affirm it.
The grieving couple could hardly believe it. The body was indeed their daughter. The DNA result was damning. What made it even worse was they failed to prioritise the parents with the results. Due to gross oversight, the media learned the results beforehand. The damage was done.
The following Friday morning found the couple again in the national eye storm. Jazimin and his family returned to the hospital to claim their daughter’s remains for burial. Waiting for them was a large crowd of people and the press, hungry for the unfolding drama. The public’s eye continued to follow them, from the funeral prayers to the burial rituals of the late Nurin Jazlin Jazimin.
“We’ve tried,” Jazimin said to his wife as they tearfully bid their final farewells to their daughter.
Nurin’s death sparked a nationwide outrage. Horrified parents shared the sentiments, horror and sympathy. A large number of Malaysians blogged on the Internet to express their feelings of anger and disappointment over Nurin’s ill-fated demise. Suspects were detained but dismissed when the police could not establish any solid links between them and the victim. Potential witnesses were questioned, but they were unable to volunteer any useful leads. The local authorities sought help from America’s well known law enforcement agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), to help enhance and examine a CCTV footage they had recovered from the premises of the store where Nurin’s body was found. Malaysian police are not well equipped with modern digital forensics techniques. They were hopeful that footage may contain vital information about the perp that dumped the body. In America, any kidnapping case is automatically considered a federal crime and will be handled by the FBI immediately. The FBI has a long vast experience in handling child abduction cases in America, starting with the fatal Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932 to the infamous slaying of Amber Hagerman. Amber Hagerman’s demise, whose abduction and subsequent sexual-assault-cum-murder in 1996, inspired the Amber Alert emergency broadcasting system as an immediate counter-measurement to child abductors and predators in the event of stranger abductions. Currently, there is an ongoing online campaign by bloggers to introduce such procedure in Malaysia as well, aptly named “NURIN Alert” (also an acronym for Nationwide Urgent Response Information Network). The legislation for NURIN Alert is still pending for proposal and assessment.
In the meantime, Nurin’s parents had to deal with one blow after another. It was announced that they may be charged with parental negligence - Nurin’s abduction and death somehow was their fault. Nurin’s post mortem photos were leaked to the public via e-mail circulations by an irresponsible party. However, recent development has confirmed that the person responsible for the leakage is already in custody. Public outcry for justice continues.
There are several critical points to be examined from the Nurin tragedy. By far, it is the most controversial missing child case in Malaysia in recent years. The efficiency of local police work, media ethics, political and public sensitivity is indeed questionable. The media obviously lacked sensitivity when they over-sensationalized the case. News reports of the murder described every minute detail of Nurin’s mutilations. However, the point that begs reflection is - how and why did the media obtain knowledge the DNA result before Nurin’s parents did? It was sheer irresponsibility of both the authorities and the media.
Then there are debates regarding the police work. Did they take too long to take long to start mobilizing themselves to investigate Nurin’s disappearance? While it is understood that the majority of the missing children are runaways, perhaps this case could offer a valid cause for them to reassess on how they could respond to future missing children cases in the event of a stranger abduction. With the Nurin Alert campaign going on, it is hopeful that this could change the outlook of police work regarding missing children. However, the blame should not lie entirely with the police force. The public needs to be educated as well on how to respond when a child goes missing, because every precious minute counts during an abduction case. Investigations will be more productive when the public and the police are able to work together.
The controversial charge of Nurin’s parents for parental negligence was another shocking headline. Under the Child Protection Act, parental negligence is an offence. However, due to the circumstances that this was a stranger abduction case, it is still an ongoing debate regarding the matter and the rationality behind it, and whether it is fair to charge Jazimin and wife for negligence.
The general consensus is that these parties have failed Jazimin and his family during the unfolding of the traumatic events. Police work slowed down due to much unneeded public interferences, media sensationalism and political play-by-play. The added annoyance of the photo leaks did not help the investigations at all.
There is a demand for proper studies and research in missing children and missing person cases, sex crimes and paedophilia in Malaysia. There is also an increased pressure for sex-offenders list to be made accessible to the public. A nationwide awareness certainly needs to be increased in order to understand sex crimes and why they occur. The myths and common perceptions that the victims and their families are to be blamed in these events are disturbing and have gone on for far too long. The appalling crank calls that Jazimin’s family received during the investigations very much exposed how Malaysians need to understand about the reality of things. The common perception that “murder and kidnapping happen regularly”, the self-righteous nuance that “the parents have sinned” and the political insinuation that “Nurin’s case is just media’s diversion tactic” are also a sad reflection of a thriving negative and shallow mentality that should be done away with. In fact, the Nurin case should serve as a wake-up call on how much the society has changed, and how much we need to change ourselves to deal with the issues at hand.
It was announced recently that the government will invest billions of ringgit to modernize police equipment. While this is welcoming news, the focal point should also be emphasized more on police professionalism and incidence response alert. They may also need to re-examine their relationship with the media regarding details concerning an ongoing investigation and post-mortem reports.
Parents should also be notified with guidelines on what to do in the event of a child abduction. Most parents are in dilemma about the “24-hours wait”, and this issue needs to be addressed immediately. Every second is crucial in ensuring a child’s odds of survival. A parent should be encouraged that it is all right to approach the police immediately when a child goes missing, without fearing accusations of over-reaction. However, this matter still needs to be assessed carefully as a lot of things need to be taken into consideration, such the state of urgency and if the child is genuinely missing to avoid unnecessary panic. An awareness campaign could help address the issue.
Recent development suggests that there are possible connections between Nurin’s case and the notorious “Kampung Baru Molester”, who lured, kidnapped and molested the two little girls under the pretext of helping him search for his missing cat in July. This is not an uncommon tactic for a child molester when preying on their victims. As of now, the molester is yet to be caught and questioned.
“When they (the police) find him, I want to look into his eyes,” Jazimin said. “I want to look at the face of the man who killed my daughter. I want to see what kind of person he is.”
At present, Nurin’s murder remains an open investigation. The police are convinced that they will find a lead. It’s just a matter of time, good old police work and patience. Jazimin, his wife and his family and relatives are still hopeful that the police will apprehend the person responsible. They are hoping that justice will prevail.
They pray for it.
© Diagnosis Crime, 2007
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