Remains of 7-year-old boy found in a freezer

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Remains of 7-year-old boy found in a freezer

Police are scrambling to solve the puzzle of the mysterious death of a young boy in Bucheon, Gyeonggi, whose body parts were found last week frozen in a refrigerator years after he vanished from school.

Local authorities said Sunday that some 220 other children have been missing from school for unknown reasons.

In an interim report on an ongoing investigation of nationwide elementary school children who have been absent from school for more than three months, the Ministry of Education vowed to push government officials and school teachers to personally visit the missing students’ homes and track down their whereabouts.

So far, the homes of 112 students have been visited, while the remainder will be checked by Jan. 27. Thirteen children have been reported to police for further investigation, while eight others whom authorities believe to be suffering from domestic violence were reported to child protection institutes.

“[The ministry] will come up with countermeasures to prevent a repetition of the recent tragedy,” pledged Lee Joon-sik, education minister and deputy prime minister for social affairs. Teachers will soon be required to report absent students to authorities.

On Friday, police officers arrested a middle aged couple for allegedly killing their 7-year-old son in 2012, mutilating his body and then storing body parts in their home refrigerator.

The apprehension came two days after the boy’s school called the Bucheon Police Precinct to report that the parents of a boy who had been missing for years sound a bit “suspicious” when called to ask his whereabouts.

That call, which the school was forced to make as part of the national initiative tracking down absent children, was made three years and nine months after the first grader disappeared from school. The school and the boy’s first grade teacher claimed to have made numerous phone calls to his parents and personally visited his house several times. They rang the bell but no one answered, they said. The last day the boy attended school was April 27, 2012.

The school says the victim’s mother told them over the phone that she decided to home-school him.

The school also claimed that it sent official notes to the boy’s community center seeking it to help determine whether the boy was really at home on May 9 and 18, 2012 but didn’t get any reply.

Domestic law requires elementary, middle and high schools to issue a notice to parents of a missing child when he or she is absent from school for at least seven consecutive days. But enforcement is so lax that many schools don’t bother.

In Bucheon, the father surnamed Choi and his wife Han, both aged 34, face charges of physical abuse, mutilation and violation of children welfare, after their son was found dead last Friday.

While the precise cause of the boy’s death remains murky, the couple has denied all murder accusations, saying he passed out one day in October when he fell while Choi was forcing him to take a bath.

The suspects claim they didn’t take him to the hospital and kept him home until one day in November, he “suddenly died” without regaining consciousness. Han, who currently works at a telephone counseling center, said she was at work when her son took his last breath, and that she was informed about his death by her husband. Choi mutilated him and stored the parts in the freezer when Han was away at her parent’s house, she claimed. While police believe that some parts of the corpse are missing, Choi reportedly told them that he “threw some away in a garbage bag and flushed it down the toilet.”

Han said she didn’t call the police because she “thought the household needed a bread winner” and someone to take care of their daughter, who is now 11.

It is unknown whether the 11-year-old knew about her brother’s death. Police moved her to a childcare facility and said they would investigate whether she was physically abused.

A neighbor said the daughter was very bright.

Results of an autopsy on the boy will be known in around two weeks.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, HONG SANG-JI And CHOI MO-RAN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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