The details were sketchy and all we knew at that time was that the body fished out of the river near Kampung Sungai Sireh in Port Klang was highly decomposed. The boy was apparently wearing a yellow T-shirt.
Our challenge was to publish the story without being speculative, or even conclusive, as the parents of William Yau Zhen Zhong rushed to the mortuary to identify the body.
Just a few nights earlier, again near midnight, there was a false alarm. We were told a boy resembling William had been spotted in Kemaman, Terengganu.
Before that, police in Johor had questioned a woman who was seen with a boy. Again, a member of the public had alerted the police, believing it was William.
But on Thursday night, many of us had this disturbing feeling that the body recovered from the river could well be the closing chapter of a saga that had captured the nation’s attention, and galvanised the people in hope of a miracle.
There was also another concern – to be sensitive and respectful to the parents, and the readers as well, by not being too graphic about the details of the decomposed body.
As parents and human beings, we had hoped that it was not the missing William. Still, even if it was not William, the very thought it could be someone else’s son was not comforting either. However, the fear of every Malaysian has been confirmed. It is now certain that the body was that of William, who was reported missing on Jan 16.
Our hearts go out to the family. It will not be easy for them to handle this situation and the grief will be there even after the story no longer commands the attention of the public. But there is, at least, closure to this case.
Which is not so for many other cases of missing children.
Many of their parents still hope against hope. Many will continue to be traumatised by occasional claims of sightings. Loose talk of children being part of syndicates of beggars, with amputated legs or hands, also does not help. Imagine the kind of pain that is inflicted on these parents.
It is also disturbing to read the account by fisherman Yusof Osman, who found the body, that last year alone, fishermen in the area had fished out eight bodies at the jetty. He reportedly also said that 16 bodies had been found in the same area over the last 10 years.
The boy’s body was the second to be found at the jetty this year. The first, that of a heavily tattooed man, was found on Jan 4.
That’s really shocking. It could well mean that people are being killed and dumped into the river. We are not even sure how many of the killers were caught.
There have also been previous reports that bodies are sometimes found in waste dumps. Again, many of these incidents are forgotten and remain as statistics. More often than not, if the press is not aware, such cases would have gone unreported.
In the case of missing children, as in William’s, they are often given priority as media organisations also want to help the community by giving maximum exposure in the hope of finding the children.
In April last year, Netizens using the social media and newspapers helped secure the release of 12-year-old South African Nayati Shamelin Moodliar.
He was walking to the Mont Kiara International School when he was grabbed by two men. His friends and family immediately set up a Facebook account to gather more information and galvanise the people to look out for him.
In William’s case, there was a lapse of time. The case was first reported in the Chinese newspapers, and only four days after his disappearance, on Jan 19, did the national dailies give prominence to the case. The TV and radio stations then joined in the search.
By then, the news reports had grabbed the nation’s attention with a full search involving various groups. Precious time, in many ways, was lost.
We hope that Malaysians, especially those attending places of worship today, will spare a thought and a prayer for William’s family. As much as the nation is engrossed over politics and the date of the general election, do remember to think of the boy and others who need our prayers.