Thursday, January 02, 2014

What Has Happened To Malén Ortiz?

Mallorca is a small place. It is not a place where a crime can be committed, a serious one that is, and for it to be easy for the perpetrator to hide or escape. The smallness of the island is one reason why it isn't easy. Being an island is another. But crimes can go unresolved, just as they can anywhere. In the case of Malén Ortiz, it is still unknown if a crime has been committed. A month on from her disappearance, and the investigation shows no sign of uncovering a crime or of proving, one way or another, how or why she went missing.

Though a small place, people can disappear in Mallorca. They may disappear without any crime having taken place, but it is hard to say categorically that no crime has occurred. One thinks of Jacqueline Tennant, the rep who disappeared over six years ago when she was out hiking on a day off from the hotel at which she was based in Can Picafort. Her body has never been found. It may never be found. And one says that there is a body to be found with just ever such a slight doubt. Might she actually be alive? It would seem very unlikely. It is unlikely there was any foul play, though who can say for sure? The most likely explanation for her disappearance is that she met with an accident in the mountains. She may have fallen into the sea. No one knows.

Malén Ortiz wasn't in the mountains. She was near to her school in Calvia. Just after three o'clock on the afternoon of 2 December, she phoned her boyfriend to arrange to go to his house for something to eat. She then left a text message for her father to tell him where she was going. A security camera, viewed some days after she had disappeared, recorded her movement, heading in the direction of Son Ferrer where Dani, her boyfriend, lives. Another camera, close by, did not record her movement.

Initially, Malén's disappearance bore all the hallmarks of a problem at home. She lives with her father Alejandro and younger brother. The parents are separated. Her mother was in Thailand when she went missing. Both parents pleaded for her to come home, the mother saying that Malén could come and live with her if she no longer wanted to live with her father. The assumption that was being made was that Malén was staying with someone. That she was a runaway. That she had gone missing voluntarily.

A month on and this hypothesis is shot to pieces. Police have been searching small manmade lakes in the Son Ferrer area; they have been searching in the sea. They have looked for her in a flat in the Es Pil-lari area of Palma, having apparently found a message on social media that came from the girl. She wasn't there. They have even searched for Malén in the Son Banya district of Palma, the neighbourhood notorious for its drug dealing and drugs gangs. And to make the story stranger, "El Ico", one of the La Paca clan, the chief gang in Son Banya, has offered a reward for information that will lead to her being found. Her father says that he came into contact with El Ico purely because of Malén disappearance; he wanted to help. Investigators were nevertheless surprised by El Ico's intervention.

The search for Malén has drawn criticism. The hypothesis that she had gone missing voluntarily may have been why the search was suspended for a weekend. The indications were, those that were being discussed in the media and social media, that the police expected her to be found. But these indications proved to be false. The search effort has intensified over the past few days. The voluntary disappearance theory looked ever more shaky when the two video recordings were taken into account.

Four days after she went missing, Teresa Palmer, who is the government delegate for the Balearics and so the person ultimately responsible for police and security matters in Mallorca, reiterated the view that Malén had left home and that she had acted "voluntarily". Alejandro Ortiz did not subscribe to this view, even if he and family and friends posted a video on YouTube calling for her to come home.

It wasn't until just about Christmas Day that the official line changed decisively. Malén's disappearance had not been voluntary. Meantime, on 20 December, there was an attempted abduction of an 18-year-old girl in Sa Pobla. It may have had nothing to do with Malén, but it inspired Alejandro Ortiz to issue a third video, one calling on the people of Mallorca to help find her. It was now being openly admitted that Malén had probably been kidnapped.

Small place Mallorca may be, but people can disappear. Malén Ortiz, though, is not a woman in her forties who in all likelihood had a terrible accident. She is a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl who was on her way to have lunch with her boyfriend. A month on, the runaway hypothesis having been dismissed, serious questions have to be asked.

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