L Adilakshmi was worried on Wednesday when her 4-year-old son did not return from the 'Anganwadi' and at around 12:30 pm in the afternoon, set out to look for him.
What she did not expect was that around an hour and a half later, she would see her child's dead body, with his head chopped off, allegedly as a sacrifice to a deity.
The entire village of Pokur in the Voletivaripalem mandal of Prakasam District in Andhra Pradesh was enraged as news spread, and the accused was nabbed, tied to a pole and thrashed before the mob set him on fire, accusing him of indulging in black magic.
He was rescued by the police and shifted to the Kandukur government hospital and later to the Rajiv Gandhi Institute of Medical Sciences (RIMS), in the district headquarters of Ongole.
"This is the first time such an incident is happening in our district," says assistant Sub-Inspector Shankar, one of the policemen handling the case. "There was a function in the anganwadi yesterday, so the accused may have seen this as an opportunity, to slip away with the child," he adds.
However, Tirumala Rao, the accused who is said to be in his mid 30s, was spotted by a girl from the boyâ€™s neighbourhood, who normally accompanies him home from school, who in turn informed his mother.
The mother then went to Tirumala Raoâ€™s house and opened the door to find the boy lying in a pool of blood in a prayer room.
"The boyâ€™s head was on one side and his body was on the other side and there was a utensil filled with blood that the accused may have planned to offer to a deity. However, he was missing from the scene," Shankar adds.
The police plan to question the accused once his condition is said to be stable and cases have also been registered against some of the villagers who carried out the attack.
Adilakshmi immediately screamed, before fainting, following which neighbours rushed in and were in for a shock themselves.
The angry mob of villagers called out to everyone and grew in number with every house they passed, and soon apprehended and thrashed Tirumala before setting him on fire.
"He is still in the ICU and hasn't said a word yet. Villagers say that he had a reputation of being close to practitioners of tantric rituals and even being one himself," the police added.
Could an anti-superstition law have prevented this?
Venkata Rao, the brother of the accused, claimed that Tirumala Rao had tried to attack him with a sickle in the past, and had parted ways with his wife as she could not put up with his odd behaviour.
However, the police have registered a case only under Section 302 of the IPC which deals with murder, as the state does not have any law to tackle black magic and related practices.
Though black magic is rare in the state, it definitely isn't unheard of. In January this year, a group of villagers burnt a man alive in Mahubnagar, holding him responsible for a crisis in the village.
They accused him of practicing sorcery, which led to "sudden death of people and domestic animals."
The laws dealing with black magic are also weak and the arrested can only be charged under IPC Section 420 (for cheating) or under Section 7 of the Drugs and Magic Remedies Act, which is considered a weak and outdated law itself.
"The only way this could have been prevented, at least to a certain extent, is if there was a law specifically against it," says Narendra Nayak, a rationalist and president of the Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations (FIRA).
Nayak adds, "While there can be no law against superstition itself, there should be a law against black magic and other inhuman practices, which can curb these kind of incidents. As far as the superstition is concerned, there is also the need for a massive awareness campaign to educate these people."
However, he is also skeptical as he points out that no significant change can occur when the powers that be, are believers of superstition and perpetuate it themselves.
"Both KCR (as the Telangana chief minister is popularly known as) and Chandrababu Naidu are firm believers in vastu and make their decisions on auspicious dates," Nayak says while adding that change is tough to bring about in such a scenario.
Read - Sorcery and Murder: Dark spell of black magic in Karnataka's Chamarajnagar