Policeman missing since the 2004 tsunami is believed to be found in psychiatric facility, over 16 years later

Officials compared Zainal Abidin’s old photo with a patient's photo from a psychiatric hospital, and concluded they might be the same person

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A police officer who had gone missing since the disastrous tsunami in Asia, which killed more than 200,000 people on Boxing Day more than 16 years ago, is believed to be found in a psychiatric hospital. 

On Dec. 26, 2004, a powerful9.1-magnitudeearthquakestruck off the west coast of northern Sumatra, Indonesia, leading to several tsunamis that devastated at least 12 countries, including Sri Lanka, Thailand and India. These tsunamis, one of the deadliest disasters in modern history, took the lives of nearly 230,000 people, with thousands of people missing, including Zainal Abidin, a man from West Java, Indonesia, who in 2004 was a police officer stationed in Aceh, the capital of Indonesian province Banda Aceh, Coconuts Jakarta reported.

And only 16 years after, the Aceh authorities claimed they finally found the missing man who they believe is Abidin, known as Asep.


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In 2009, a village chief in Banda Aceh, Indonesia, spotted a man wandering in the area nearby. The officer ultimately admitted the man to a psychiatric facility since his identity was unknown at that time. The man stayed in the hospital as local people refused to accept him in the village. 

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When Abidin’s old photo in police uniform recently circulated in the media, local police in Aceh compared the picture of a foreign patient to that of Asep, leading them to suspect that these two may be the same person. 

“We will verify with his family in West Java and his unit,” a spokesperson for the Aceh Provincial Police said, according to EuroWeekly News.

“We will also perform a DNA test on the patient, as well as fingerprint analysis and other identification methods.”

A photo comparing the streets of Banda Aceh after the tsunami with the streets of the city after reconstruction.
A photo comparing the streets of Banda Aceh after the tsunami with the streets of the city after reconstruction. Photo by BAY ISMOYOBAY /Getty Images

It remains unclear what happened to “Asep” throughout the five years from the moment the tsunami hit Indonesia until he was “found” a psychiatric institution. Police also did not reveal his mental condition, according to Coconuts Jakarta. 

When the earthquake ruptured a fault line under the Indian Ocean, it sparked massive waves that reached up to 100 feet (30 m), erasing communities in a matter of seconds. 

More than 570,000 people were relocated and 179,000 buildings and homes were shattered in Indonesia. Banda Aceh has been rebuilt in a new city on top of the rubbles, Reuters reported.

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