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Husband Remembers Fatal Night on Diamond Bridge

Cambodia University students lay down flowers during a memorial service near a bridge where festival goers were killed Monday in a stampede in Phnom Penh, Nov. 25, 2010.

Like other families of stampede victims on Diamond Bridge, Leung Porn's family decided to hold the 100-day ceremony last weekend at a Buddhist clergyman's suggestion.

Leung Porn's wife, Tor Sophal, was one of the 353 victims killed in the stampede on the bridge during last year’s water festival.

Leung Porn, who is 54 and now the single father of three children, said the ceremony will help his wife rest in peace.

“The ceremony is to stop her soul from wandering and help her reincarnate,” he said in an interview. “I pray for her to be reborn in a better life, one not as miserable as this one.”

Leung Porn is a farmer and motorcycle taxi driver from a small town in Kampong Speu province, Chbar Mon. His wife had been a commune council member and the main breadwinner of an extended family of 10 people.

“I wonder where she will be reborn,” Leung Porn said. “I still want to know in what direction, what province and what village she will be reincarnated.” He began to cry. “I love my wife so much,” he said.

Leung Porn was with his wife on the bridge on the night of Nov. 22, 2010. They had decided to walk along the bridge at the end of the Water Festival, along with many others. They found themselves trapped amid thousands of people, all sandwiched onto the small platform, pushing from two directions and unable to move either way. The crush of bodies began suffocating some, and when panic ensued, many where crushed to death.

Leung Porn said he survived by maneuvering his body to keep his chest from being crushed. He was separated from Tor Sophal and in the crush of bodies was helpless to save her.

“I was hopeless for my wife at the time, because I myself was nearly half dead,” he said. “When I saw my wife lying dead, I was confused and speechless.”

Tor Sophal’s ashes now sit on a shelf in the house, for the whole family to pray to. In the aftermath of tragedy, they received about $12,000 from the government and other donors. Some of that was spent on her funeral and subsequent ceremonies. The rest remains in savings.

“Even though you gave me gold too heavy to carry, I didn’t need it,” he said, looking at his teenage son, whose head was shaved in mourning. “I would have taken my wife back instead.”

Leung Porn said he will no longer allow any of his family members to go to Diamond Island, or even to the Water Festival, for fear of another disaster.

“I’ve advised my children and grandchildren not to go there,” he said. “If they want to celebrate the event, I tell them to celebrate at home with the family. I’m afraid, and I swear I’ll never go again.”

Perhaps, he said, he would be willing to visit a memorial stupa for the dead if it is built near the bridge. And he wants the authorities to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t happen again.

For now, 100 days later, he remembers his wife and is sorry he had not done more for her when she was alive.

“I am regretful that I could never afford to treat her to a big meal in a restaurant,” he said.