The Abia police command has confirmed the death of one Miss Kasarachi Okwuonu, a fruit vendor, who was reportedly hit by a “stray bullet” during a crossfire between the police and alleged armed bandits at Apumiri, the headquarters of Umuahia south council area.
The Commissioner of Police in the state, Mr Ene Okon, told newsmen in Umuahia that he was briefed about the incident by the head of the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) upon his return from Abuja.
He said that the incident happened on Wednesday night, when a team from SARS that responded to a distress call concerning a robbery reportedly engaged the suspects in a gun battle.
He said that the gunmen, numbering five and in army camouflage, were operating in the area, using a Toyota RAV4 .
“On sighting the SARS team, the gang opened fire and SARS operatives exchanged fire with the robbers.
“In the exchange of fire, a stray bullet hit the victim, who was rushed to a nearby hospital, where she was later confirmed dead.”
Okon dismissed speculations that the deceased was either shot directly or killed by accidental discharge.
He said, “There was nothing like accidental discharge or direct firing at the victim.”
He said that the Toyota Sienna van used by the SARS operatives was riddled with bullets from the hoodlums.
However, an eyewitness account said that there was no case of robbery in the area as alleged by the police.
He said that the incident occurred around 10 pm, when SARS operatives were on their routine patrol of the area.
He alleged that the operatives were in the habit of harassing and arresting commercial motorcyclists in the area once it became late.
He further said that those arrested and detained were usually made to pay as much as between N30,000 and N50,000 for their bail.
The eyewitness said that it was during an encounter between the SARS men and motorcyclists that one of them pulled the trigger that shot and killed Kasarachi.
“There was no robbery in this place at all. We saw what happened and we can identify the policeman who pulled the trigger,” he said on the condition of anonymity.
It was further learnt that the decessed was hit by the bullet while returning from a filling station, where she had gone to pack her wares at the end of the day’s business.
The decessed was described as the breadwinner of her family.
Meanwhile, the police commissioner said that he had set up a panel from the State Criminal Investigation Department to investigate the circumstances that led to the death.
Nigeria News Agency reports that youths of Mgbarakuma Ubakala, where the deceased hailed from, took to the streets on Thursday to protest what they termed the “cold-blooded murder” of their sister.
(Edited by: Sam Oditah)