When the girl went missing, the neighbour Prakash joined the search party, but the entire time the child’s body was lying stuffed in a bag in his house.

Vijayawada village seethes in anger at neighbour who allegedly killed 7-year-old girl
news Crime Wednesday, November 13, 2019 - 15:41

When a seven-year-old girl went missing in Nallakunta on the outskirts of Vijayawada on Sunday, the entire neighbourhood came together to look for her. On Tuesday afternoon, people are still gathered together along the street near the child’s house. The search ended on Monday evening. They are now mourning the loss of the little girl who was allegedly killed by her 37-year-old neighbour Prakash.

More than a hundred neighbours and acquaintances are waiting for the child’s body to return from the Government General Hospital after the post-mortem. Some are gathered under a tent on the road in front of her house. Banners reading ‘We miss you ‘chitti thalli’ (our little girl)’ have been put up on every street. Inside her house, her mother’s relatives and her two brothers, 9 and 12 years old, sit in front of the TV watching news channels for updates from the hospital, where her parents are waiting to bring her body back.

In the closely-knit neighbourhood where everyone recognises each other, the neighbours and acquaintances can still hardly believe everything that has unfolded in front of them in the past couple of days.

On Sunday afternoon, sometime after lunch, the child, who lived on the ground floor of the building, had gone to her upstairs neighbour’s house to play with a few other kids. Around 3 pm, she left to return home downstairs. But the child never came back home again. When her parents Anil and Ramanamma realised she was missing, they began to search with their neighbours’ help. Among these neighbours was Prakash, who lived across Anil and Ramanamma’s house on the ground floor.

“Prakash was crying the entire time we searched for her. He kept recalling that she used to call him ‘pedda nanna’ (uncle). He even talked to TV reporters about her,” says Harika, a neighbour from upstairs.

The locked door of Prakash's house across Anil and Ramanamma's house

Anil filed a complaint with the Bhavanipuram police about his missing daughter on Sunday night. Four police teams, along with the neighbours, searched frantically for the child all night. They looked for her all over the neighbourhood, worried sick that she might be hurt and wondering if it might be too late. The search continued on Monday. Prakash seemed to be searching along with the others, but the entire time the child’s body was lying stuffed in a bag in his house.

On Monday evening, Prakash’s wife, who was away visiting her children at a residential school, returned home. “Prakash was out of the house, still pretending to look for the child. The bag with the body was shoved away in a corner of the house. He had blocked it with a mattress, a cot and other things. His wife only found it while she was looking for an ATM card. Otherwise, he almost got away with the murder,” says another neighbour, Seshamma.

The neighbours who were constantly gathering at the child’s house to exchange information were shocked to know that not only had they lost the child, but it was Prakash, a neighbour and familiar face whom they least suspected, who was behind it. “A few young men found him immediately and started to beat him up. They couldn’t contain their anger. The police reached just then and took him away,” Seshamma says.

Surya, who worked with Prakash at a nearby godown and lives in the same building as Prakash and the child’s family, says that no one ever suspected Prakash for a second. “He was a very short-tempered man. He had a drinking problem too. But he was not very confrontational with neighbours. It has been nearly two years since he started living here. He and his wife were always cordial with neighbours. The little girl used to call him ‘pedda nanna.’ There was no ill will or enmity among the families. We are still trying to process that this really happened,” he says.

While there are CCTV cameras outside the house next door, police had said that the footage had not provided any clues. “If Prakash had gotten rid of the body, he would’ve gotten away with it. But there were so many people gathered here all the time which made it impossible,” says another neighbour.

In spite of there being no clues about the child leaving the building, police say they did not search the neighbours’ houses inside the building. “It had been less than 24 hours since the child went missing. The parents kept saying they didn’t suspect the neighbours at all, so we focused our efforts elsewhere,” Bhavanipuram Sub-Inspector Israel says. Even the police dog did not identify the body inside Prakash’s house, according to neighbours and Israel.

Even as the post-mortem results are awaited and the investigation is going on, police said that the motive for the murder is yet to be confirmed. “He (the accused) has been making a lot of claims. We need to cross-check them,” police said.

While a few reports suggested that the post-mortem indicated sexual assault, police said that the results are still awaited.

By Tuesday evening, as they received news that the body was being brought from the hospital, the neighbours, along with a few members of the All India Democratic Women’s Association (AIDWA), staged a roadblock at the Nallakunta junction on the main road for about an hour, demanding justice for the child. As soon as the body arrived, the protesting neighbours followed the vehicle back to Anil and Ramanamma’s house.

As the small coffin was placed under the tent, hundreds of people jostled to say a final goodbye to the little girl before her body was taken to the burial ground. There were students from her school, the workers at the local Anganwadi which she attended until a couple of years back, relatives, neighbours, friends and playmates, all of them still filled with grief and shock, but mainly with anger at Prakash, who almost got away with his crime, leaving the family and neighbourhood permanently wounded.

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