Tura Salesian priest goes missing in Bihar

Belongings recovered from garbage bin in New Jalpaiguri

From Our Correspondent

 TURA: In what is suspected to be a shocking case of kidnapping, a 57-year-old Salesian priest from Tura has gone missing from the train he was travelling on from New Delhi to Guwahati en route to Tura with his last whereabouts located at Katihar in Bihar on the morning of October 27.

To make matters worse, a message from an unknown number about the death of the priest was forwarded to the authorities of Don Bosco College from Bihar and later his belongings were found dumped in a garbage bin at New Jalpaiguri railway station in West Bengal.

Rev. Fr. Francis Fernandez, who happens to be the Rector of Don Bosco College, Tura, left for New Delhi on October 22. From there he went to Dehradun to meet his nephew and also visited the Doon School before taking the Rajdhani Express from New Delhi for Guwahati on the 26th of this month.

He was due to arrive in Guwahati the next day. While the train reached its destination the priest was nowhere to be found.

Salesians from Don Bosco College, Tura, last received a message from Fr Fernandez that was sent from Katihar train station at 7:54 AM of Thursday informing of his destination.

“He was in a compartment that was filled with local people at Katihar railway station of Bihar. That was the last message we got from him,” informed senior Salesian priest Fr PD Johny of Don Bosco College, Tura.

The compartment B2-28 of Rajdhani Express 12424 was where the Don Bosco Rector was supposed to have been. It was filled with a large group of minority workers from Kisanganj and nearby villages at the time it reached Katihar station.

The Salesian community was completely unaware of the unfolding events until they received a SMS from an unknown number in broken English about the condition of the priest.

The message mentioned that Fr Francis has been hospitalized in Kisanganj, a notorious area for crime, with serious stomach pain and needed money for emergency operation. The message goes on to mention that a passenger collected money but it was too late as his appendix had ruptured leading to his death.

The message further states that the body was taken away for cremation by the passenger and the person sending the SMS. The last message from the sender, who has since gone incommunicado, claims himself to be a villager with no telephone.

Following receipt of the message, the Salesians of Don Bosco immediately alerted the authorities including the Railway Protection Force and the Intelligence Bureau for help with the case.

A frantic search was made at several train stations along the route since the last two days and it was only late Saturday night that police and railway authorities and search teams found the personal belongings of Fr Fernandez in a garbage pit near New Jaipalguri Railway Station in North Bengal. “From the garbage pit police retrieved the identity card of Fr Fernandez, his province directory of Guwahati Don Bosco Province, his flight ticket to New Delhi and a return train ticket to Guwahati, one of his favourite novels he took on his travels and other documents.

The closely knit family of Salesian fathers of Don Bosco are hoping for the best even even as they fear for the worst. “We are deeply distressed and are praying for the safe return of Fr Fernandez,” informed Don Bosco College priests from Tura.

The Don Bosco College of Teacher Education, Tura, has put forward two numbers for any information on the whereabouts of the missing priest. The numbers are 09862588757 and 9436730717.

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