A 35-year-old male suspect appeared in court Wednesday morning in connection with the abduction of two school boys that kept authorities on high alert for almost eight hours a day earlier.
The suspect, described as Greek Cypriot website designer Yiorgos Nicolaou, is accused of kidnapping two 11-year-olds from Larnaca’s Kamares public elementary school Tuesday morning before first class period. He reportedly approached five boys and told them he was a new teacher, with two of them responding to his call to help transport some items.
A video released Wednesday shows the suspect walking with the two boys, coaxing them into following him to his house.
Police went on high alert when the incident was reported to state authorities, with road blocks and helicopters being used in a massive search effort to locate the suspect and two boys.
But it turned out hours later that Nicolaou lived about a kilometre away from the school, in an apartment where he had taken the two boys and possibly drugged them by putting a tranquilizer in their lemonade.
Initial reports on Tuesday, attributed to Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, said the motive could have had something to do with ransom, following comments the suspect made to police. However the idea was played down later and police spokesperson Andreas Angelides dismissed it entirely citing there had been no demands whatsoever.
Unconfirmed sources said a second suspect was wanted by police, possibly a roommate or business associate who might have information as to the activities of the suspect, including managing websites online.
According to Kathimerini Cyprus, police did not confirm a second suspect in the case, while earlier reports said the man was unemployed and lived alone with his dogs and had no previous run-ins with the police.
But latest reports on Wednesday pointed to additional incidents allegedly involving the suspect, with parents from other schools telling authorities he was acting suspiciously and approached other children in the past.
Police received dozens of tips including one from a neighbour of the suspect, saying he feared that Nicolaou matched the profile of the person wanted by authorities in connection with the abduction, particularly the colour of his vehicle. The neighbour also reflected on the fact that the suspect was switching his licence plates between two vehicles, which helped him connect the dots and pick up the phone.
“I got suspicious when I knew his car didn’t have any licence plates while today he had them on,” the neighbour said.
When two cops answered the call and knocked on the suspect’s door, they found a man who was unalarmed and completely oblivious to the public chaos caused by the incident. They asked if he could move his four dogs to another room and then they entered the residence, spotting the two boys in another room who appeared to be lightheaded and unaware of time or their surroundings.
One police officer rushed the kids outside while calling on another female resident, who worked at a nearby kindergarten, to come and help guide them to safety, leaving the other cop resorting to calling on other fellow residents to help out with the arrest.
The two boys were reportedly in good health and were taken to Larnaca General Hospital for medical tests, including an evaluation as to whether they were drugged.
A number of computers were also confiscated from the apartment.
Media media outlets raised questions as to how long it took for the school to notify police. According to Kathimerini Cyprus, some reports cited as much as a 45-minute delay, however it cautioned that the preliminary report was not verified by investigators who were still sifting through tons of information.
Another report said that the suspect had tried to approach other boys previously, while a third pupil who did not follow the suspect to his car was said to have been living in his building.
Police also want to know whether the kids were drugged and how, with reports saying specialised lab test results can pin point the exact kind of substance used in such situations. Knews understands that investigators aim to learn about possible motives once these issues are clarified.
President, police praise effort
President Nicos Anastasiades, who is in New York attending the UN General Assembly this week, took to social media to thank all state agencies that took part in locating the boys.
“Congratulations to Cyprus Police and all state Authorities of the Republic for the colossal effort and also to the private citizens who helped locate the two minors. I thank you from my heart,” the president wrote on Twitter.
Police also took to social media to praise the response and support they received from the public.
“A big thank you to all fellow citizens for the sensitivity they have shown from the first moment and the help they offered to police. Each one contributed in their own way, so that we could have a positive outcome in the adventure of the two boys and lead us to the arrest of the suspect,” police said in a statement.
The suspect appeared in Larnaca District Court Wednesday morning where he was remanded into custody for eight days while police investigate the case further.