REPORTING FROM MOSCOW -- The uncontrolled weeping of a teenage mother whose baby was missing tore at the heart of an entire nation.
Through inconsolable grief, Svetlana Shkaptsova, 19, told her TV interviewer that one week earlier she had left her 9-month-old daughter in a stroller outside a pet store while she ducked in to pick up some cat food. When she returned just five minutes later, baby and stroller were gone.
More than 1,000 police officers from the region surrounding in the industrial city of Bryansk, 240 miles southwest of Moscow, along with hundreds of volunteers, launched a massive search March 11. Every attic and basement in town was examined. Mothers with babies were checked. A nearby Gypsy camp was thoroughly tossed.
Only an empty pram was found outside a house near the pet food store.
In the Russian24 TV report, Shkaptsova stood in a small room near a sofa brimming with toys. “We go out every day to buy toys, waiting for her to come back home,” she said through endless tears.
“I am begging ... return my child,” the nursing school dropout pleaded. “We are waiting for her and we love her.”
Then police administered a polygraph test. And the story took a dramatic turn.
A week before the baby was reported missing, police now say, Shkaptsova and the baby’s father, Alexander Kulagin, 31, got into a drunken brawl. He beat up Shkaptsova, then hit the child and kicked her out of her perambulator, said Vladimir Markin, the Russian Investigative Committee spokesman.
The child was severely injured, but Kulagin would not permit Shkaptsova to leave the house or call an ambulance, Markin said. The baby died the next day, Markin said investigators were told. Kulagin -- who has two children he is not allowed to see from a first marriage, and two children from two other girlfriends -- told interrogators that he could not bury the baby’s body because the ground was frozen, so he incinerated the corpse in a campfire. He later buried the remains at his grandmother’s grave.
For the next week, Shkaptsova roamed the streets pushing an empty stroller, pretending her child was still alive for the benefit of witnesses, police said. When she entered the pet food store March 11, Kulagin, dressed as a woman and wearing a wig, rolled the pram away, leaving Shkaptsova to call the police and begin the gruesome charade.
Pavel Astakhov, a Russian children’s ombudsman and renowned lawyer, said Friday that he would seek the maximum life sentence in this case, and push for the death penalty for such crimes in the future.
“If the president finds it necessary,” Astakhov said, “we may cancel the moratorium” on the death penalty.
-- Sergei L. Loiko