Missing schoolboy Livingston Sunhwa saga: DNA tests results released — We are at a dead end

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PAIN and uncertainty continue to haunt Livingstone Sunhwa’s family after results from the eagerly awaited Deoxyribonucleic Acid (DNA) tests on his presumed remains came back inconclusive, The Manica Post can reveal.

As a result, additional tests are now in the pipeline to establish whether the remains are Livingstone’s or not.

Livingstone, who was a Form Four student at St Matthias Tsonzo High School in Mutasa, disappeared from the institution on December 6 and he remains unaccounted for.

Prior to his disappearance, Livingstone had been arrested on theft charges.

He was, however, allegedly released as he was due to sit for his English final exam paper.

Unfortunately he never showed up for the examination and has been missing ever since then.

On June 20, the Criminal Investigation Department, which is in charge of investigations, discovered Livingstone’s presumed remains a stone’s throw away from St Matthias Tsonzo High School.

Blood samples were collected from his mother, Ms Selina Tadya and sister Pride Sunhwa, together with part of the skeletal remains, for DNA testing.

Seven weeks down the line, the family still has no answers as the results were inconclusive.

DNA testing is said to be inconclusive when it fails to produce information that allows an individual to be either included or excluded as the source of the biological evidence.

Normally, three types of results can occur in DNA testing – inclusion, exclusion, and inconclusive results.

The Manica Post has since established that a round table meeting involving Ms Tadya, investigators and the DNA testing service providers was held in Mutare last week on Friday, with the inconclusive results being presented there.

Authorities revealed that results should have been released within 21 days, but the process dragged on for more than two months due to the putrefaction of the collected samples.

Putrefaction refers to the destruction of soft tissues that takes place shortly after death and is due to the action of micro-­organisms on the body.

Research shows that human decomposition begins just a few minutes after death via a process of self-digestion known as autolysis, with temperature, humidity, rain and the sun, among other factors, playing an important role in the process.

Therefore, investigators were forced to collect bone samples for DNA testing as the soft tissues like skin, muscles, nervous tissues and hair had decomposed and had been washed away.

Bones, including teeth, have a hard structure which protects DNA from degradation or rather slows down the process by enclosing it in hard and protective materials.

However, the investigators have since learnt that the collected samples had been compromised by extensive exposure to the sun, the rain and the wind.

Although Manicaland provincial police spokesperson, Inspector Nobert Muzondo was not readily available to comment on the latest developments, Ms Tadya confirmed the meeting.

“We are at a dead end, nothing is moving seven weeks since the discovery of the remains. No concrete answer could be reached with the collected samples. They told us that the samples did not yield enough DNA, hence there was no conclusive answer.

“It will drag on because they have collected additional samples, the teeth, which they say can also be a reliable source of DNA in post mortem testing. They explained the challenges they are facing, but due to the gravity of this case, they said they cannot declare inconclusive results, hence the need for another round of trials with additional samples.

“This means waiting for another 21 days. If they fail to come up with conclusive results within 21 days, they will then recommend that the samples be sent for further testing either in South Africa or Botswana where there is more advanced technology,” she said.

“Their main argument is that the remains were exposed to the rain and the sun for a very long time such that DNA was eroded. However, from my side they did not collect additional samples as the ones initially collected are still valid,” she said.

Ms Tadya is praying for closure on Livingston’s case, which has dragged on for eight months.

“It is painful and it’s straining me, my life is on hold. I can’t do anything. I cannot go back to work in South Africa. I am just seated at home with no money, yet everything is demanding money.

“Soon schools will be open, I need to raise school fees for Livingstone’s sister. Where will I get the school fees when I am not working as I wait for the DNA tests results? We desperately need conclusive results to bring closure to this case.

“It hurts us as a family because we are still mourning and we do not know when the mourning will end. We are not at peace. We can only be at peace after ascertaining whether those are his remains or not and according Livingstone a befitting burial. What we are going through is awful and devastating,” she said.

If the DNA test results turn out negative, Ms Tadya said the search party will continue until Livingstone is located.

Discovery of the remains led to the suspension of St Matthias Tsonzo High School headmaster, Mr Maxwell Sambona, to pave way for investigations.

Acting Manicaland Provincial Education Director, Mr Richard Gabaza said the matter is being handled internally and could not disclose further information.

“We cannot publicise what course of action has been taken. What you should know is that police are yet to release the DNA test results and we are still waiting for them to assist us in this matter. Administrative issues are ongoing alongside the police procedures,” he said.

— Manica Post


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