Aceh cop missing since 2004 Boxing Day tsunami found in mental institution

Zainal Abidin went missing during the 2004 Aceh tsunami. The photo of the mental institution patient on the right was believed to be him. Photos: Istimewa
Zainal Abidin went missing during the 2004 Aceh tsunami. The photo of the mental institution patient on the right was believed to be him. Photos: Istimewa

Authorities in Aceh believe they have found a cop who had been missing for a little over 16 years; specifically since the day of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami.

Zainal Abidin AKA Asep, a West Java native who was stationed in the Aceh capital of Banda Aceh in 2004, was among the tens of thousands missing when waves slammed into the region on Dec. 26 that year.

Police said that in 2009, a village chief found Asep wandering near the area and had him admitted to a mental institution in Banda Aceh. His identity was not known at the time, and he remained in the mental institution as the villagers refused to take him in.

It’s not clear where Asep went in the five intervening years between the tsunami and his admission to the mental institution. Police also did not disclose his mental condition.

Recently, local cops began to suspect that the patient is Asep when his photo, compared side-by-side to a photo of a uniformed Asep from years ago, circulated on social media.

Following an investigation, the Aceh Provincial Police has all but confirmed that they have found Asep, but a need for a final verification remains.

“We will verify with his family in West Java and his unit. We will also perform a DNA test on the patient, as well as fingerprint analysis and other identification methods,” Aceh Provincial Police spokesman Winardy said yesterday, adding that Asep’s family will be flown in from West Java.

The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami was one of the worst natural disasters in recorded history, which killed some 220,000 people around the Indian Ocean. Aceh was the worst hit region, with nearly 170,000 killed and some 38,000 people missing in the province.

Should Asep’s identity be confirmed, his case would be among many improbable tales of survival from the devastating disaster. One particularly widely reported story of survival was that of Martunis, who caught global attention when he was found wandering around a beach days after the tsunami struck. 

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