The presumed murder of a teenage girl from the countryside east of Bucharest, who could not been saved despite her having called for help repeatedly, has shocked Romania for the past several days. The case, which comes after the disappearance of another girl in that part of the country, led to calls for government dismissal and accusations that measures by the governing party and other authorities have led to a failed state who can't defend its citizens.

Protest in memory of Caracal victim Alexandra in Bucharest SaturdayFoto: Agerpres

UPDATE The main suspect in the case, Gheorghe Dinca from the town of Caracal, on Sunday confessed he murdered both missing girls in the area, Alexandra and Luiza.

Alexandra was a 15 year old girl from the village of Dobrosloveni in the Olt region, southern Romania. She went missing on Wednesday morning when she hitch-hiked to travel between the nearby town of Caracal and her village. On Thursday morning, the girl herself managed to call the 112 national emergency number three times in a row, providing details of her surroundings and grim information about her state, according to various, often conflicting accounts.

But it took authorities no less then 19 hours to enter the home of the presumed killer on Friday morning.

Charred human remains, apparently human flesh and jewelry supposed to have belonged to the missing teenager and possibly to a second victim were reportedly found at the house of the suspect killer.

The killer, a local man, dismissed all charges or that he knew anything about the victims. In a first phase, the official announcements spoke of an indictment for rape and human trafficking, but did not mention charges of murder against him.

The case was linked to the disappearance of another girl in the region, Luiza, several months ago.

  • Families of the missing girls reported having been mocked at by the police when they first encountered them about the disappearances, with policemen reportedly indicating Prince Charming adventures or suggesting that false alarms might have a family paying big money for the inconvenience.

Both the police and prosecutors investigating the case accused the Special Telecommunications Service, which is a military and security organisation of the state, of providing false locations during investigations. Police and prosecutors also blamed each other for failing to intervene in time, with policemen claiming having been ordered by prosecutors not to intervene without a warrant, while an organisation of prosecutors suggested the police simply did not do their job and implied they might have gone to sleep throughout the night when they should have intervened.

Alexandru Cumpanasu, the head of an NGO who said he was a relative of the victim, provided a violent, grim account of what her family allegedly understood to have happened. His account was countered by official descriptions of events, but contributed decidedly to increasing public outrage about the case.

  • Prosecutor general Bogdan Licu said he saw "no explanation" to what had happened. The head of Romanian Police Ioan Buda and a local prefect were dismissed on Friday, with local and regional police heads sacked later.

But after incoherent statements in the first phases of the scandal, representatives of local police later said they acted "perfectly", the Special Telecommunications Service defended its actions and an organisation of prosecutors also issued a statement defending prosecutors' actions.

Political stakes

President Iohannis intervened on Friday with statements that inquiries be done quickly and effectively. PM Viorica Dancila, the new leader of the governing Social Democrats, also intervened on Saturday and said - despite not having the institutional tools - she considered calling for a referendum to introduce more severe sentences for pedophiles, killers and rapists, including life imprisonment and chemical castration. She also was reported to have called for a postponement of party sessions that would have made her candidacy for presidency in elections later this year official.

As Romania faces a wave of elections - presidential this year, general and local polls in 2020 - the case was quick to become subject of political quarrels.

  • But it also caused thousands of people to attend a protest in memory of victim Alexandra on Saturday evening, calling for the resignation of the whole government.

Charges of failed state

And, it dug up major issues blamed on the pressure that the governing Social Democrats (PSD) have put on the judiciary and the fight against corruption.

The Caracal presumed murder comes almost four years after another tragedy - the fire at a rock concert at the Colectiv venue in Bucharest, where dozens of people died or suffered major burns. The fire was caused on precarious conditions at the venue, which were blamed on corruption. But, despite the tragedy leading to mass protests and the dismissal of the government at the time, inquiries were late to advance. And the precarious conditions for burn victims led to another set of scandals, which also led to extremely slow investigations.

The Caracal case also comes almost a year after the Bucharest protests of August 10, 2018, when the riot police intervened violently to stifle demonstrations.

That protests were caused by the PSD actions against justice, actions which come to light again with the Caracal case. Among others:

  • Prosecutors and other observers claimed or suggested the police and prosecutors did not intervene quickly because of the fear of a special department established by the governing PSD to monitor and sanction magistrates. The establishment of such a department has been criticised heavily by Romanian authorities and European and international fora.
  • Prosecutors and police were blamed to have failed to intervene despite having the Constitutional right to do so no matter what other risks are associated with such actions, when it comes to extreme, life-threatening circumstances.
  • The STS service provided weak geo-location data to police and prosecutors. This prompted speculation that it was because of the dissolution of a collaboration form with the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), which the Constitutional Court, in line with the PSD discourse, found not to be constitutional.
  • STS has reportedly not improved its outdated geo-location capabilities for years, despite a previous tragedy prompting it to launch a public tender in this regard years ago. The procedure is now blocked in a court action.

All these led to an increasing outcry that authorities have failed to serve their own people. The accusation is only amplified by numerous other scandals in all public sectors in recent years, from education (including the lack of transport facilities for countryside pupils, such as Alexandra in Caracal) to health services and from taxation to securing heating during winter time. All scandals have been blamed on failing institutions, increased levels of corruption, the promotion of mediocre leaders and exploding nepotism and overcrowding in public payrolls.

  • In these circumstances, it is expected that the Caracal case be heavily politicised as elections are nearing. In the particular case of the Caracal murder, public discourse also focused along political lines: opponents of the PSD blamed mostly the police, which has been associated with the PSD and the August 10, 2018 violence already, while opponents of President Iohannis focused their attacks on prosecutors and the STS, a service which is generally associated with his authority.​