7-year-old boy found dead after frantic search

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7-year-old boy found dead after frantic search

The frantic search for a 7-year-old boy from Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, who went missing last month ended Saturday when police discovered his body buried discreetly on a hill.

Shin Won-yeong’s untimely death is believed to have been the result of longtime abuse at the hands of his father and stepmother, only identified by her surname Kim.

The couple, both 38, misled Pyeongtaek police to cover up the boy’s death, which is suspected to have been caused by beating and neglect.

Kim initially told police amid an investigation into Shin’s disappearance that she had lost her stepson on the streets of Pyeongtaek and that she had not killed him.

The child’s father also insisted that Shin had never been beaten or abused.

The couple told authorities Saturday, however, following an overnight interrogation, that on Feb. 1, Kim had beaten the 7-year-old for not being properly potty-trained, stripped him and doused him in cold water. Then she locked him in the bathroom overnight.

The pair discovered the boy dead the following day.

They said they kept the boy’s body on the veranda for about 10 days, then buried him on Feb. 12 on a nearby hill in Cheongbuk-myeon in Pyeongtaek, near the grave of the boy’s paternal grandfather.

Police said Kim frequently locked the young Shin, clad only in his underwear, in the unheated bathroom since last November, claiming he had to be potty-trained properly.

She beat him if he tried to escape and poured germicidal bleach over him. During the week prior to his death, she starved him.

Police tailored their search for the boy based on the couple’s statements and found his corpse on Saturday, buried on the hill as his parents had said.

He was wearing a tracksuit and had an injury on his forehead.

“The body was found buried 50 centimeters in the ground, and was in the early skeletal stage,” said Park Deok-soon, an investigator with the Pyeongtaek Police.

According to police, the initial results of the boy’s autopsy showed that Shin’s death resulted from blood loss, starvation and hypothermia.

Autopsy results also showed wounds on Shin’s head resulting from long-term abuse and that he had been malnourished.

The boy would have started the first grade on March 2.

However, when the 7-year-old did not appear for class, his elementary school reported his absence to authorities two days later.

Police began questioning Shin’s father and stepmother that day.

On Thursday, the police commenced their search, releasing Shin’s full name and photograph, deploying drones, hundreds of police and Coast Guard officers, rescue dogs, helicopters, patrol boats and divers.

Kim said during police investigations that she had lost Shin in late February during an outing and could not remember where because she had been drunk.

She also said she told her husband that she had sent the boy to her mother’s friend in Gangwon because she didn’t want to tell her husband that she had lost the child.

The boy’s father backed her testimony, adding that he thought his son was in Gangwon with acquaintances.

The father confessed he “knew about the beatings but saw it as a method of discipline so let it go.”

He also falsely claimed that CCTV footage from Feb. 20 of a boy near the elementary was his son, and took time off from work to search for his child, initially throwing police off track.

When police officials checked CCTV footage of the Shin family’s basement parking lot at their villa in Pyeongtaek, they spotted the couple loading something into their car on the night of Feb. 12.

Two days later, credit card bills showed that the pair had purchased at a Cheongbuk-myeon supermarket makgeolli (traditional rice wine), beef jerky and chocolate. They headed up toward the grave, CCTV footage showed.

Police became suspicious when the pair answered differently when asked separately if they took Shin with them to visit his grandfather’s grave. Shin’s father said he did not take his son, while Kim said they did.

They also left digital footsteps.

Kim apparently typed in on online search engine, “How many years for murder?”

And Shin reportedly also faked text messages with the boy a day after he died, asking, “Are you doing well, Won-yeong?”

Kim replied in the boy’s stead, “I’ve eaten and brushed my teeth.”

Kim and the child’s father wed in June 2013.

He has a 10-year-old daughter from his first marriage, who admitted to having been beaten, locked on the veranda and starved by Kim. She was sent to live with her paternal grandmother last April.

The children’s biological mother lost custody after the divorce three years ago and was allowed to see the children once every two weeks, but those meetings ceased after the father stopped taking her calls last August.

A somber funeral for the boy was held Sunday in Pyeongtaek.

Police are looking into charging Kim and the boy’s father with murder.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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