Locals in Portimão have been shocked by the apparent murder of an eight-year-old girl who disappeared from her home in Figueira, near Portimão, on September 12. Police believe that Joana Guerreiro’s mother was the killer.
The deceased child’s mother, Leonor Cipriano, initially gained the nation’s sympathy as she appealed on television for the safe return of her daughter, after she had apparently failed to return home from a trip to the local shops. But as the police investigation into her daughter’s disappearance intensified, Leonor’s story changed several times and she was finally arrested for murder, although Joana’s body has yet to be found.
The girl’s uncle, João Cipriano, also suspected of complicity in her murder, appeared in court last weekend after being re-arrested. Both suspects are now in prison. Cipriano apparently ‘confessed’ to police that he had helped to conceal the little girl’s body in the village of Figueira, but said he could not remember the exact location because it was dark.
Police apparently interrogated him for over an hour – although his conversation was described as ‘rambling and incoherent’, he apparently provided police with enough evidence to warrant his detention. Leonor remains in custody, having been taken to a prison in Odemira last Saturday – the only female detention centre in the south of the country. The two suspects have been placed under special supervision.
Police believe Leonor killed her little girl with repeated blows to the head. Meanwhile, a neighbour has revealed that she heard two loud screams on the night of Joana’s disappearance and that her dog barked incessantly all night long. The neighbour, who has requested anonymity, said she was talking to a friend when she heard the screams. She apparently told police that they did not alert the authorities because everything soon became quiet.
We must be more aware
Recriminations are now starting to fly in the aftermath of the murder, as it became clear that neither the National Society for the Protection of Children and Young People at Risk nor the Ministry of Social Security had assumed responsibility for a complaint received a year ago.
Apparently, the Parents’ Association at Joana’s school had commented on her undernourished appearance and the fact that she seemed to be carrying out too many household chores. Following the complaint, some officials from the commission visited Joana’s house, but uncovered no evidence on which to base further action. The school itself claimed that Joana seemed to be a happy and normal girl. “We never detected any signs of mistreatment at all. As a pupil, she was very reasonable and, above all, very responsible,” said one of her teachers, Maria Isabel Alves.
Fernando Negrão, Minister for Social Security, Family and Children, conceded that society had to become more conscious of its responsibilities towards children. “We have to cast aside notions that we shouldn’t interfere in neighbours’ lives,” he said. “These issues will not be resolved with more government funds but through greater awareness of the importance of children’s lives.”
At the time of going to press, officers from the PJ and the GNR, together with bombeiros and sniffer dogs, were still searching for the girl’s body in and around the sewers of the family’s home in Figueira. Residents in the neighbourhood apparently alerted police after a putrefying smell emanated from the drains.
Another possibility the police are pursuing is that the little girl’s body has been placed in a container or bin liner and deposited in a rubbish container. As a result, police are considering searching the Barlavento dump where the refuse from eight concelhos is disposed.