Neighbors found Nun Sareth, 38, outside his home in Kampong Chhnang’s Boribo district Sunday evening. The home was engulfed in flames, his wife and four children were inside the house.
Three fire engines put out the fire, but it was too late - all five people inside were dead, including a three-year-old boy. Nun Sareth told police that an issue with an electric connection in the house caused the fire.
But, police investigators and members of the Child Protection Unit were not convinced. The police questioned how Nun Sareth did not have any time to save any members of his family.
Khov Ly, Kampong Chhnang’s provincial police chief, said a medical autopsy of Nun Sareth’s wife, who goes by Chea, and their three-year-old son showed they were deceased before the fire started.
“We found that two people died before the [fire] incident,” he said. “The technical team concluded it was a murder.”
The police questioned Nun Sareth for two days, he maintained his innocence and denied killing his wife and son. But, on the second night of interrogations Nun Sareth made an unusual request, Khov Ly said.
“He asked for a bunch of incense sticks and said he would answer us [the next day]. Then the next morning, he confessed,” the provincial police said.
Nun Sareth was charged with Article 200 of the Criminal Code and could be sentenced to prison for life if convicted.
He told police investigators that his wife swore at him frequently and he lost control on May 9. A statement from the Child Protection Unit said the accused was having an argument with Chea inside their home, when he grabbed a pair of scissors, stabbed his wife, and then attacked his three-year-old son.
Nun Sareth then strangled his nine-year-old stepson, after which his seven-year-old twin stepsons ran away and hid in one of the rooms. Nun Sareth then started a fire, likely using a mattress and clothing, knowing that his stepsons were alive and locked in one of the rooms, according to the statement.
“All 5 persons died in the fire or from injuries they received prior to the fire began. The twins were found deceased still holding each other,” the statement reads.
Nun Vanny, Nun Sareth’s father, said Chea had been married two times previously. She had a nine-year-old son with the first husband and the twins during her second marriage. The three-year-old, Chamroeun, was Nun Sareth’s biological son.
The father was unaware the couple was having fights or that it would lead to homicide.
“They seemed sweet to each other all the time. If I had known, I would have asked them to calm down,” he said.
Nou Heng, a village chief in Deum Chre, and Chan Ann, Khon Rorng’s commune chief, both said the family was facing financial distress because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The village chief said the family was indebted after they took a loan to buy land and to build their home last year. Nun Sareth would sell clay cookware and stoves and had tried to sell second-hand clothes.
Before the confession, Nun Sareth received donations from the Cambodian Red Cross, the Royal Palace and other senior government officials, when it was assumed the fire was an accident.
But, news of Nun Sareth’s confession has left his family in shock.
“I don’t know what to say since he confessed already. I could not eat and drink. My wife and I almost fainted,” said Nun Vanny, Chamroeun’s grandfather.