A 14-year-old boy, who had been missing from Ghaziabad since Tuesday, called up his family from Mumbai on Thursday morning. The call set into motion a series of events that ultimately led to the Mumbai Crime Branch tracing him to Govandi the same evening.
According to police officers, the boy, Sandeep Singh, stayed with his parents and elder brother, Kuldeep (19), in Ghaziabad. Sandeep had been missing since Tuesday morning, and Kuldeep, after looking for him in vain, registered a missing persons’ report with Indrapuram police station in Ghaziabad that evening.
On Thursday morning, Sandeep called Kuldeep from an unknown number and told him that he was in Mumbai. On being asked how he reached Mumbai, Sandeep gave vague and incomplete responses, leading Kuldeep to fear that his brother had been drugged and kidnapped. The family, through some acquaintances, then got in touch with the Mumbai Crime Branch. Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Ashutosh Dumbare then instructed Senior Police Inspector Jagdish Sail (Unit III) to look into the matter.
Mr. Sail said, “We first obtained the registration details of the number that Sandeep had used to make the call and found it was registered to a Nashik address. We tracked its location to the immediate vicinity of Sterling Cineplex near Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus. We then rushed to the spot.”
For the next four hours, Mr. Sail and his team scanned the entire theatre, the eateries around it and Azad Maidan, located behind it. The police also went through CCTV camera footage of the theatre since that morning, but Sandeep was nowhere to be seen.
The team was initially wary about calling up the number Sandeep had used. They feared it would alert the accused in case Sandeep had actually been kidnapped. However, the police found out that it was their only option to track him. A Unit III officer then called the number posing as a sales executive with the cellular service provider. A man answered the call. The police then decided to take a chance as it was now confirmed that the mobile’s user was located in the same area. They dialled the number again, this time identifying themselves as police officers.
Mr. Sail said, “I was speaking to the man while standing near the theatre. I asked him where he was and he told me that he was also near the theatre. After several minutes, I realised I was speaking to a pavement dweller sitting across the street.”
The entire Unit III team converged on the man, who was sitting next to a boy in his teens. The police quickly confirmed the child was not Sandeep, but another boy who had also run away from his home in Hyderabad.
Mr. Sail said, “The man told us that he found the boys wandering in the area, arranged whatever food he could and tried to convince them to return home. Both of them refused to do so. He was particularly concerned about Sandeep because he looked very young. He then called up one of his friends in Govandi and asked him to take Sandeep home.”
Two constables then took the runaway boy from Hyderabad into their custody. The rest of the team sped to the friend’s place in Govandi. The team landed outside the house at 8.30 p.m. just as the friend was getting into an autorickshaw with Sandeep. The police found out that the man had given Sandeep Rs. 200 from his savings and was taking him to Lokmanya Tilak Terminus to put him on the first train to Ghaziabad. The police took Sandeep into custody and an hour later arranged a video call with his family in Ghaziabad.
Mr. Sail said, “Sandeep told us that he ran away from home because of his parents’ extreme poverty. He wanted to try and find a well-paying job in Mumbai. He took the first train to Mumbai from Ghaziabad and was aimlessly wandering around the city when he met the other runaway boy. We have contacted the families of both the boys. They are expected to be in Mumbai soon.”