THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala finally breathed a sigh of relief as Abigail Sara Reji, a six-year-old girl hailing from Oyoor, was found abandoned near an Ashramam ground in Kollam.
The child was reportedly dropped there by the gang that had kidnapped her when she was en route to a tuition class with her eight-year-old brother on Monday evening.
One of the local residents said the child was dropped off by a woman in the car. Abigail appeared healthy and was taken to the AR Police camp.
The child then spoke to her mother, Siji John, via video call. Later, Siji and Abigail’s brother Jonathan too reached the camp. Accompanied by her family, Abigel was shifted to KIMS Hospital in Kollam.
Dhananjaya, a student of Kollam SN College, was one of the first persons to spot Abigail. “I was at the Asramam ground when I saw a woman walking away, leaving a child behind. When the woman did not return, I sensed something wrong and approached the girl. Upon confirming she was Abigel, I asked her about the woman. By then, local residents gathered at the spot and alerted the police. The woman appeared to be 30-35 years old. She was wearing a yellow-green churidar,” said Dhananjaya.
A grateful Reji expressed hope that the perpetrators would be nabbed soon. “We want to know who is behind this. I believe the investigation will shed light on the matter. I am thankful to all those who supported my family during these tough times,” he said. Siji too thanked the police, local residents, political leaders and media for their unwavering support.
Abductors had no prior connection with the six-year-old, say police
“God has answered everyone’s prayers. I am grateful God has returned my child to me unharmed,” she added. The police confirmed that the abductors had arrived in a white car and that they had no prior connection with the child.
ADGP Ajith Kumar, who is heading the investigation, said the police will collect more information from the child once she recovers from the trauma. He said the gang abandoned her due to the tight police surveillance across the state. “The abductors intercepted Abigail and her brother when the children were en route to their tuition centre. The woman in the car allegedly gave a piece of paper to the boy and asked him to give it to his mother. In the meantime, they grabbed Abigail and dragged her inside the car. They assaulted the brother with a stick. When Abigel cried, they covered her mouth with hands,” he said.
“From what the child told us, the kidnappers took her to a big house and spent the night there. They provided her with food and a laptop to watch cartoons. We have identified the vehicle after checking the CCTV footage from Kalluvathukkal,” he said. “On Tuesday, the assailants along with Abigail reached Chinnakada in a blue car. However, we need to verify it. From there, the woman along with Abigail took an autorickshaw and reached the Asramam ground. Later, Abigail was identified by the residents,’’ said Ajith Kumar.
After Abigel's abduction, the police had initiated an extensive probe into the incident and extended their manhunt across the state.
Police had managed to release the sketch of the kidnapper, but no breakthrough was achieved even 20 hours after the shocking incident, which has sent ripples in the society.
On Tuesday morning, three men were picked up for questioning from Thiruvananthapuram. Though initial reports hinted that their detention could be in connection with the kidnapping case, the police later clarified that they were not involved in the incident.
The police raided a car washing centre at Sreekanteswaram in Thiruvananthapuram by around 6.30 am.
Three individuals, including the car washing centre owner Pratheesh and a Sreekaryam native, were taken into custody. Reports indicate that police found 19 bundles of Rs 500 in a bag at the centre, which comes to the tune of about Rs 7.5 lakh.
"As we intensified the search for the child, we came across these men, some of them having criminal antecedents. They are not involved in this crime, but we took them in for some other cases," said a police officer.
Though the police are giving a pan-Kerala attention to the case, Kollam and neighbouring districts remain keenly watched by the police. In addition to Paripally and Pullikkal, which are in Kollam, the police have extended their investigation to inter-state border areas in Thiruvananthapuram and Kollam districts as well.
South Zone IG Sparjan Kumar had earlier said that the investigation is being pursued from all angles. The police have identified a white Desire car in CCTV footage, though confirmation of its connection to the abduction is pending.
The proof revealed that a fake number plate was used by the kidnappers while committing the offence.