On Monday August 31, 2015, Sophia Koetsier arrives at Entebbe airport in Uganda. She is 21 years old, bright and ambitious, with a great zest for life, about to embark on a new adventure in a faraway country, on a continent she has never been to. That summer she had acquired her bachelor of Medicine at the University of Amsterdam, effortlessly passing her exams, with high grades, while working a part-time job throughout her study.
She had recently decided to continue with Tropical Medicine after getting her master of Medicine. Her long term plan was to become a surgeon or a gynaecologist. But first she was going to work eight weeks as a medical intern in Lubaga Hospital in Kampala. Sophia took well to life in Uganda and its people. As was clear from the extensive and enthusiastic weekly reports she sent us, her parents and her two brothers.
After the internship she wanted to see some more of Uganda, before returning home to the Netherlands on the 10th of November. Three days later we would attend the festive ceremony where Sophia was to receive her official bachelor’s degree certificate from the University of Amsterdam.
We did not pick her up at the airport that day and we did not attend that ceremony.
To this day Sophia has not returned home. (see video page 3)
On Wednesday October 28, Sophia arrived at Murchison National Park together with two fellow students and their tour guide, also driver; they had met in Kampala. He had arranged for the three girls to stay at the Student Centre, a very low budget accommodation in the park, where they arrived around 6 pm. Shortly after that Sophia disappeared.
What happened between arrival and disappearance is not clear. A short search was conducted until it got too dark.
The circumstances surrounding Sophia’s disappearance are obscure and many things do not add up.
Shortly before Sophia went missing her phone had broken down. It was later found in her luggage with her passport, bank pass and other personal items.
Sophia’s disappearance was in the media for just a few days. From the start it was assumed that it must have been a ‘fatal accident’; the girl had mental problems, she was attacked by an animal, eaten by a crocodile, killed herself, drowned, end of story. It was, perhaps conveniently, ignored that no blood traces were found, no signs of a struggle, and no remains were ever found. Rangers said they watched for increased activity by vultures in the days after Sophia went missing. They didn’t see any.
The morning after Sophia’s disappearance one item, allegedly hers, was found some five meters from the river bank. Nothing else. The next morning, Friday, a trail of puzzling items was found along the river bank, spread out over some 45 meters. It included a pair of knickers attached to a branch high up in a tree, one shoe and pieces of torn fabric, some of them tied to dead wood. Those pieces make up one leg of a pair of trousers Sophia owns, but it is not clear what she was wearing when she disappeared. No other garments were found, nor the second shoe.
The items were close to the one that was found the previous morning. According to local police they weren’t found simultaneously because, due to excessive rain, the items had been under water. Photographs do not support this explanation. Forensically trained people who saw the photographs of these items are adamant they have not been under water. They also call it ‘manipulated pieces of evidence’. A question that inevitably comes up is if the items were actually there on Thursday.
On Saturday morning October 31, again a day later, dogs arrived. It is not clear which trace or scent the dogs were following. They did not have Sophia’s scent and their handlers did not ask for it. And there were plenty of scents as many people had been walking in the area by then. A fact the Scene of Crime officers, who arrived that same morning, were apparently unaware of as they cordoned off the area.
It is not known who was present at the Student Centre that evening.
It is not known who entered or left the park that evening or the day after.
No one seems to have been seriously heard.