GUA MUSANG, Oct 11 — The death of four orang asli children sent to boarding school by parents wanting a better future for them will not be understood by most of the nation.
For a village grieving in isolation over its young taken in their prime, it is a tragedy of unprecedented proportion that will haunt them for a long time to come.
“All we wanted was a decent education for the children and now four of them are dead,” said Aban Anjang, 80, the great-grandfather of Sasa Sobrie, eight, the first to be found dead in the Pos Tohoi tragedy.
He said never in his 50 years of living in Kampung Simpul had a disaster like this befallen the village.
The village on a mountain top 50km from Pos Tohoi has not been the same since the seven were reported missing on Aug 23 and when news filtered in of the recovery of skeletal remains and the finding of two emaciated children on Friday.
Malay Mail made a trip yesterday to the village hidden in thick jungle to meet family members of the children on whom the community had pinned hopes for a better future for all.
The team found a community in mourning, with few outsiders around to ease the pain. But this has been the case for decades for members of the Temiar tribe who have had to share their joys and sorrows among themselves.
With news yesterday that the skeletal remains of another child had been found, all villagers like Aban could talk about were their young relatives involved.
Aban said news of Sasa’s disappearance reached the village the night the incident occurred, sparking unrest among villagers.
“Villagers from here and neighbouring Kampung Penad and Kampung Gawen then went down to Pos Tohoi to begin a search for the children,” he said.
Aban said the last time he met Sasa was during the Hari Raya Aidilfitri holidays when she returned after staying at the school hostel in Pos Tohoi for most of the year.
“When I talked to her, she was full of positive energy as usual. The last thing I remember saying to her was to study hard and to be patient with the teachers and wardens at her school and hostel,” he said, as tears flowed down his cheeks.
Latip Aban, 45, Sasa’s paternal grandfather, said he dropped everything and was immediately joined the search efforts as soon as news broke of the missing children.
“Authorities, along with village folk, started scouring the jungle and river bank for any trace of the children but to no avail,” he said.
Latip, who also looked after Sasa’s two younger siblings, Nazrin, two, and Nur Asyikin, one, said he heard the students had run into the jungle to avoid punishment from their teachers for swimming in a nearby river.
“I am still coming to terms with losing my granddaughter, and what hurts more is she perished in fear,” he said.
Angah Pandak, 60, Sasa’s maternal grandfather, said he was working in Gua Musang when he heard of the incident.
“I was on my way back to the village, unsure of Sasa’s condition. I was praying for the best.
“Several days passed after the incident without a trace of them. This was when I started getting desperate, with search operations not bearing results,” he said.
Ahsu Pedik, 48, Sasa’s paternal grandmother, said the other six children who went missing were all her good friends.
“Another girl, Mirsudia Aruj, was her best friend. We have met most of the children who went missing, and it breaks my heart to learn Sasa was one of those who died,” she said.
Sasa’s friends from Kampung Gawen and Kampung Penad said they will miss her a lot.
Nana Liya, eight, said she will miss talking to her classmate with whom she did her homework.
“We always worked together on our homework. Now, I will have to do it all alone,” she said.
On Wednesday, the search and rescue team found a decomposed body in the river, which was later identified as Sasa.
On Thursday, part of a child’s skull and rib bones were found about 500m from the site where Sasa’s body was found. The remains, however, have yet to be identified.
On Friday, Norieen Yaakob, 10, and Miksudiar Aluj, 11, were found alive along Sungai Perias. The body of another girl in the group, later identified as nine-year-old Ika Ayel, was also found.
Yesterday, the skeletal remains of another child, was found in the river.
The three missing pupils still unaccounted for are Juvina David, seven; Linda Rosli, eight; and Haikal Yaakob, eight.