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Timely rescue: 3-year-old strangled, stashed in freezer by grandfather's tenant

By Pham Du   August 14, 2022 | 04:43 pm PT
Timely rescue: 3-year-old strangled, stashed in freezer by grandfather's tenant
Nguyen Van Thuoc shows the lock of a milk tea store that he broke to look for his grandson in Ha Nam Province, August 13, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du
Nguyen Van Thuoc could not explain it, but felt knots in his stomach. He decided to return home early from a meeting, only to find his grandson missing.

The grandfather's instinct led to a thrilling and heartbreaking rescue joined by family members and neighbors to save the little boy from a freezer in the northern province of Ha Nam Saturday.

"You be good and play with your mother. I will come back soon," 65-year-old Thuoc had told his three-and-a-half year old grandson nicknamed Min. It was shortly after 2 p.m. Saturday.

Min would hang out with his grandpa every afternoon at their house in Ha Nam Province's Ly Nhan District. Thuoc told Min to be a good boy while he was away.

It was around five when Thuoc returned, but Min was not at home. He then went to his son's house and that of six other neighbors', but his grandson wasn’t there.

Feeling that something had gone wrong, Thuoc roped his wife and daughter-in-law in the search for Min. He was afraid that the boy had been kidnapped.

At the same time, Thuoc's son was checking security camera footage to see if he could find anything useful. The footage revealed that at 3:20 p.m., Min entered the milk tea shop next door, but did not come out.

But at 4:15 p.m., the store's owner, 25-year-old Nguyen Truong Giang, locked the shop and rode his motorbike towards the Chau Giang Bridge.

The family then rushed to the milk tea shop, which has an area of 35 m2. The gates were locked. At 5 p.m., Thuoc called Giang, who told him that he was traveling to Hanoi and Min was not inside the store. After this, Giang did not answer any more calls, though several dozen attempts were made to reach him.

After thoroughly and painstakingly checking the camera footage frame by frame and concluding that Min had definitely not left the store, Thuoc grabbed a saw and a hammer and called on some neighbors for help.

After spending a few minutes to cut open the locks, he smashed the glass door on the other side, making a opening wide enough for an adult to squeeze through. Thuoc went in first, his eyes welled up and his arms shaking.

"Min! Where are you? Come to me," he called out. There was no answer.

"Maybe he isn't here," thought Thuoc. He told five others to continue the search inside the house while he went outside to look around. There was a drainage ditch behind the house and he stirred it all the way to the bottom with a wooden stick.

"Everything was a dead-end. My mind was a mess, so I went to our family altar and lit some incense, praying and hoping that our ancestors would lend a hand," he said.

A voice echoed from beyond the street: "Found him!"

Nguyen Van Thuocs arm was grazed by shards of glass as he tried to break into a milk tea store in Ha Nam, August 13, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

Nguyen Van Thuoc's arm grazed by glass shards as he tried to break into a milk tea store in Ha Nam, August 13, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

Dang Trung Thin, 27, was the one who found Min. It was already dusk and the entire neighborhood was stressed out. As he stood among the noisy crowd, Thin's mind recalled the horrible news items he had seen online about kidnapped children. Then he rushed inside the store to help.

Inside the messy rooms, Thin noticed a freezer. One side of it was for cold storage and the other a freezer. He opened it and did not see anything unusual, so he closed it.

As he was stepping back towards the door, something stopped him. He decided to take a closer look and opened the freezer again. There was a carton box in it with a bag of ice on top. As he tried to prise the box out, it ruptured immediately and two little legs popped out.

The shock knocked Thin backwards. "I found him!" he shouted, eyes refusing to believe what he just saw. He felt his face flush red and cold fear course in his veins. It was 5:50 p.m.

He threw out the bag of ice atop the carton box and tore it apart. Min lay motionless, shriveled. There was a white shoelace wrapped around his neck.

A white shoelace wraps around the neck of a 3-year-old boy who was trapped inside a freezer for over an hour in Ha Nam, August 13, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Du

A white shoelace wraps around the neck of a 3-year-old boy who was trapped inside a freezer for over an hour in Ha Nam, August 13, 2022. Photo acquired by VnExpress

"I took him outside and felt that his heart was still beating. But he was freezing cold," Thin said.

He was unable to sleep that night. Every once in a while, he would step out of his room and look at Thuoc's house from across his window.

"If I'd been just a little slower or not reopened the freezer, who knows what would have happened. But for now, everything is fine."

Min was taken to a nearby clinic, then to a local hospital and finally the National Children's Hospital in Hanoi. Doctors said he had suffered respiratory failure, hypothermia and multiple injuries. However his condition has stabilized since.

The milk tea store had been rented by Giang from Thuoc for VND1.4 million ($59.84) per month in April. Thuoc said his family had no problems with Giang and the latter showed no abnormal behavior.

He said Min often hung around near his home or at other neighbors' houses, but never Giang's. Saturday was the first time he went into the milk tea store. Thuoc is still in disbelief that his grandson was strangled and stashed in a freezer in his own house by a tenant.

Ha Nam police summoned Giang Sunday afternoon for questioning. Giang, reportedly a decommissioned soldier, is said to have confessed to his crime.

He reportedly told the police that he was angered by the boy insisting that Giang play with him. Giang then hit him in the head with a ball. When the boy started crying and shouting out for his grandpa, Giang pinned the boy down and used his shoelace to strangle him. Then he put the boy in a carton and placed it in the freezer, closed the shop and left for Hanoi.

 
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