On December 4, seven-year-old Yuliana Andrea Samboní was abducted by a man driving a grey SUV from in front of her house in Bogotá , where she was playing with her cousin. Yuliana and her family were located in a poor district, and her alleged killer came from the nearby rich and fashionable area known as Chapinero Alto.
The Guardian reports that Yuliana’s body was found 10 hours after her disappearance was reported, in the machine room for a jacuzzi for a luxury penthouse. She had been tortured and raped, before being strangled to death. The suspect was named as Rafael Uribe Noguera, after the grey SUV was identified as belonging to his brother Francisco Uribe, who told authorities he’d sold it to Rafael.
Francisco was reportedly the one who notified the police that Yuliana’s body was at the penthouse, which is owned by the Uribes. By the time he called, Rafael had been taken to the hospital to be treated for a cocaine overdose, which he allegedly took after committing the crime. Rafael may not be the only person involved in Yuliana’s murder, but the circumstances of his alleged conspirators are mysterious:
Five days after her death, the case took a bizarre twist when a key witness – Fernando Merchan, the doorman of the building where Yuliana was killed – was found dead in his home. Although Merchan’s daughter found a suicide note, police said they had not ruled out foul play. “My little daughters forgive me … but I do not want to return to jail. I don’t want to ruin your Christmas, I am innocent,” Merchan allegedly wrote in the note he left, according to Semana news magazine.
Officials allege Uribe and at least one other person tried to cover up the crime scene. According to Merchan’s log and a statement he made to police, Uribe’s brother Francisco and sister Catalina spent several hours with him in the apartment where Yuliana was found before calling the police, although they knew officials were searching for the girl. The pair were questioned on Friday and have been not charged.
Francisco Uribe told local media he was “deeply sorry” for what happened. “We deeply lament the death of Yuliana,” he said. “We apologize for my brother.”
The Uribes are a family of elite lawyers and architects in Bogotá, and Yuliana’s brutal death led to protests against both “femicide,” which in 2015 was defined as a gender based hate crime in Colombia, but also deep class divisions. Protests erupted in the city that demanded justice for Yuliana, and President Juan Manuel Santos said in a statement, “I demand, as Colombians demand, the most prompt and severe justice that falls on the person responsible for this murder.”
Yuliana’s death has caused a nationwide call for more serious penalties against sex offenders. If convicted, Rafael Uribe could face 50 years in prison, but it is possible that his wealth and status could protect him from harsh punishment. As one Bagotá resident, taxi driver Enrique Caceres, told the Guardian, “The people from Chapinero Alto were always worrying about their safety because of that poor barrio, and all the time it was the people from the barrio that should have been worrying about those below.”