PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – A woman who disappeared in the jungles of northeastern Cambodia as a child has apparently been found after living in the wild for 19 years, police said Thursday.
The woman — believed to be Rochom P'ngieng, now 27 years old — cannot speak any intelligible language, so details of her saga have been difficult to confirm.
"She is like half-human and half-animal," said Mao San, police chief of Oyadao district in Rattanakiri province. "She's weird. She sleeps during the day and stays up at night."
The father of Rochom P'ngieng, a member of the Pnong ethnic minority, said he recognized his daughter by a scar on her back and her facial features, according to Mao San. The father is a village policeman named Sal Lou.
Rochom P'ngieng, then 8 years old, disappeared one day in 1988 when she was herding buffalo in a remote northeastern jungle area, said Chea Bunthoeun, a deputy provincial police chief.
She was discovered this month after a villager noticed that food disappeared from a lunch box he left at a site near his farm.
"He decided to stake out the area and then spotted a naked human being, who looked like a jungle person, sneaking in to steal his rice," said Chea Bunthoeun.
The villager gathered some friends and the group managed to catch the woman on Jan. 13.
"Her parents had already lost hope of finding her since she went missing for so many years. The father cried and hugged her when he met his daughter," Chea Bunthoeun said.
Since being found, the woman has had difficulty adjusting to normal life, apparently because of her long stay in the wild, said Mao San.
Authorities want medical experts to take DNA samples from the parents and the woman to see if they match. The woman's parents have given verbal consent for such a test, he said.