Helena Johannes and Andrew Kathindi
The confirmation of the identity of human remains discovered in Walvis Bay on Tuesday could be delayed amid revelations that the police forensics laboratory needed to undertake the tests are currently not functional. The remains are believed to belong to Shannon Wasserfall who has been missing since April, 2020.
Tests done in police laboratories are crucial in providing a positive identity through DNA testing.
“The DNA test is not done yet as the equipment is being moved from the old laboratory to the new laboratory. Due to this, the remains are still in the police mortuary,” Inspector-General of the Namibian police Sebastian Ndeitunga told the Windhoek Observer.
Quizzed on the progress of the investigation since the unidentified remains have been found and asked about the timeline for definitive DNA tests, Ndeitunga was non-committal.
“We are not sure if the remains are those of Shannon Wasserfall. The investigation continues. However, the clothes found at the scene resemble those that have been described as worn by Shannon on the day of her disappearance,” he said.
Tega Matheus, the grieving father of Wasserfall said that he was 80 percent sure the remains belong to his daughter. He said that he received a call from the police yesterday, 6 October, asking him to confirm the clothes that the missing girl was wearing. Matheus confirmed that the clothing found with the remains were the clothes his daughter was wearing when she was last seen.
“They were supposed to send the remains to Windhoek today (Wednesday) but it seems after this info on social media, the police have sent a group to go and familiarize themselves with the situation on the ground and assist and submit a detailed report,” he said.
“They were supposed to inform me about when the remains will be sent to Windhoek, but up to now they have not done so. I am assuming that they are still busy and maybe by tomorrow (Thursday), they will send the remains. We are now just waiting for the police to send the remains to Windhoek and then the family can decide which way to go next.”
This situation has come to light after an anonymous SMS was sent to Matheus and his other daughter, which led to the exact location of the remains which are believed to be that of Shannon.
Matheus, however, ripped into the police and the manner in which they have handled the case.
“They had K-9 squads and they did nothing. They were relaxed; they would tell you that they are doing their utmost best but they were doing nothing. They were relying on information from us. We were spoon-feeding them even as we’re spoon-feeding them now, but we’ll continue to do that in order to get the perpetrator,” he said.
Matheus claims that the investigating officer on the case, Abuid Tjikamise, tried to recuse himself from the case two months after Wasserfall’s disappearance. He informed a “Search for Shannon” WhatsApp group that the case was “too heavy” for him.
“I would call the investigating officer to tell him, ‘I sent you a message and you haven’t replied; why the delay?’ He would reply asking, who are you? I would respond, by saying if you don’t know me while we have exchanged numbers, then I’m afraid you’re not doing anything on this case. And he would come up with different excuses saying his phone was malfunctioning and lost all the contacts. But my statements were submitted with my contact details and everything.”
Matheus further said that he had suggested that the police search around the areas where his daughter’s signal had appeared most frequently.
“If you look at her towers where her own signal was picking up, where the remains were found is near one of the towers were her signal was picking up. They did not search in that area.”
Ndeitunga, however, stands by his officers stating that the police have done all in its power to look for Wasserfall and finalize the case.
“The police have since day one been searching for Shannon, by asking the public to come forward if they know anything about her disappearance. We were thinking that either she is alive or has been killed and buried somewhere,” the police chief said.
He added, “We will make a follow up on the anonymous number and this is part of the investigation.”
Human rights lawyer Norman Tjombe agreed with Matheus sentiments, stating on social media, “It is time that the police reinforce their game in investigations of the wanton murder of women and children as too many cases remain unsolved. We should urgently attend to the root causes of violence against women and children as ‘we’ men are the biggest problem.”
Gender and Child Protection Specialist in the Office of the First Lady, Veronica Theron said Sexual and Gender based Violence is rooted in gender-based discrimination and social norms and gender stereotypes that perpetuate such violence.
“Given the devastating effect violence has on individuals, families and communities at large, efforts have mainly focused on responses and services for survivors.”
“Research revealed that what we experience now in terms of the high rates of violence in Namibia, is a manifestation of what went wrong 2 – 3 decades ago. We should expect it to get worse before it will get better. Now is the time for collective responsibility and not to pass the bucket. Now is the time to close the gap between our robust legislation and implementation; and now is the time to internalize and ask ourselves, what can I do to make a difference in my sphere of influence and not wait for the government to act?” Theron said.
When quizzed on the ministry’s stance on issues involving missing women and children, the Minister of Gender Equality and Child Welfare Doreen Sioka refused to comment saying that “When we have enough information on this case, we will then be able to comment.”
Knowledge Iipinge, the Urban Constituency Councilor of Walvis Bay where Wasserfall disappeared and where her remains are now believed to have been found, said not enough is being done to keep young women and children safe.
“I believe that the very first thing needed to make our women feel safe is to pay attention and fully understand what they are saying and feeling. There is a daily outcry when it comes to the safety of young women. That is exactly what has prompted me to table a motion for the urgent intervention of the Erongo Regional Council.”
Shannon Wasserfall travelled from Windhoek to Walvis Bay to visit her mother in December 2019. She disappeared from her home in the Kuisebmond area of the coastal town after dropping off her two-year-old son at a friend’s house before she was supposedly to meet ‘someone’ on 10 April this year.
She has not been seen since. After months of searching by the police and the public, through poster sharing and other alternatives, on Tuesday 6 October, an anonymous SMS was sent with information about a site where decomposed human remains were subsequently found.
Detective Chief Inspector Daniel Gurirab of based in the Erongo Region confirmed the presence of human remains on site.