Latin America & Caribbean

Venezuelan kidnapping chronicled on Twitter touches a nation

A picture showing Juan Manaure with his son Derek Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Juan Manaure often posted pictures of himself with his son on Twitter

Juan Manaure may not be Venezuela's best basketball player. He is not among the three Venezuelan players who got picked by US scouts to play in the NBA, nor has he made it into Venezuela's national team.

He plays for Cangrejeros de Monagas in Venezuela's national basketball league but has come to the public's attention more for what he has done off the court.

From a poor neighbourhood in the capital, Caracas, Mr Manaure was given a scholarship to go to New York when he was 16, where he learned English and met his hero, ex-NBA player Michael Jordan.

His tenacity in pursuing his dream despite a tough upbringing inspired filmmaker Jackson Gutierrez to base his film 4 Esquinas (4 Corners) on Mr Manaure's life.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Juan Manaure was trying to make a career as a singer

More recently, Mr Manaure was trying to branch out into show business, recording songs and videos and working as a TV sports presenter.

But he says he took greatest pride in his charity work, talking to and teaching disadvantaged children at basketball camps and workshops.

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Juan Manaure was proud of his charity work, posting a newspaper article about his basketball clinics on his Twitter account

He also doted on his 15-year-old son, Derek, often publishing pictures of the two on his Twitter account.

Seized from his home

On 23 December, Mr Manaure was back in Caracas to celebrate Christmas with Derek and the family.

What happened next is still under investigation but police say they have pieced together the following.

The doorbell rang and Derek went to answer it.

Two people told the boy they were there to pay his father some money they owed him and that Derek could keep a "commission" if he would be kind enough to come to the car and collect it.

Once at the car, the boy was dragged into it and driven away.

Local media first reported the kidnapping at the end of December and Mr Manaure himself hinted that something was wrong on 30 December.

He wrote: "I put my son in the hands of God hoping that he will soon be at my side because I have faith in God, that he will protect you and keep you from all evil."

Image copyright Twitter

Four days later, on 3 January, Mr Manaure tweeted again, this time denying reports that his son had been killed.

"Talk of the death of my son Derek is only a rumour. God will allow him to soon return to his family. I trust in you, God," he wrote.

It followed tweets from Mr Manaure's friends and team mates expressing their sympathies at Derek's "death".

Speculation about what had happened to Derek was rife at the time and the lack of a ransom demand meant that many of Mr Manaure's friends feared the worst.

As time passed, Mr Manaure's tweets became less hopeful. One month after Derek's disappearance he wrote: "I don't know if you're dead or alive, I just ask God to put an end to this nightmare, God help me."

Mr Manaure also posted pictures of children at his basketball workshops and asked himself why "after many years of guiding children on to a good path, life is treating me so badly":

Image copyright Twitter

By 28 January, more than a month after Derek was taken, Mr Manaure's tweets were showing his increasing desperation as he posted a photo of himself with the words: "The earth has swallowed my son."

Image copyright Twitter

In the following weeks, more tweets followed imploring God to return Derek "safe and sound".

Image copyright Twitter

On 14 February, Mr Manaure received the news he had been dreading.

Derek's body was found buried near the city of Caucagua about an hour's drive from where he had been kidnapped in Caracas.

Family connection?

Police said one of three people they had arrested in connection with the boy's disappearance had told them where the body was.

The suspect also told them the boy had been killed on New Year's Day, investigative police director Douglas Rico explained.

A fourth person, who allegedly had items in his possession which belonged to Derek, has since been arrested in connection with the case.

Among those held is a niece of Mr Manaure. Police allege that she told her jailed partner about the boy's whereabouts.

The inmate, known as The Bear, in turn is suspected of hiring two people to kidnap the boy.

Mr Manaure defended his niece when she was arrested saying that "that girl cries day in day out because of what happened, she misses him".

He also said that if his niece did tell someone in jail about Derek's whereabouts, she probably did so without malice.

"She's here with us in the house. She is not to blame for what this supposed boyfriend of hers does, if it is him who has my son," he told local media.

While police assume Derek was kidnapped for ransom, they do not yet know why the boy was murdered.

Most of those kidnapped for ransom in Venezuela are released within 24 hours, a study by the Institute of Criminal Science and Criminology at the University of Santa Maria in Caracas suggests.

Police did not say if a ransom request was ever made in Derek's case.

Juan Manaure has tweeted once since the news of his son's body was found to thank "all of those lovely people who were there the whole time supporting me and praying for my son".

"I have no words for so much pain," he wrote.

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