April 29, 2009

The Kaselehlie Press

Wapar, Pohnpei - On Monday, April 20, residents of Wapar, Madolenihmw were shocked to discover that one of their own had been killed in a gruesome manner and buried in a shallow grave some time on Saturday, April 18.

Late in the afternoon on Monday, Benjamin Hawley Tihpen approached off duty Madolenihmw police officers at Wapar's community nahs and tearfully confessed that he had murdered his father. He asked to be taken to jail. One of the officers, a relative of the family became agitated and refused to believe the story until after Benjamin led police officers to the site of the shallow grave where he said had buried his adopted father Pernal Tihpen. Officers dug in what was Benjamin's vegetable garden and found that Tihpen's body had been buried just as Benjamin said. His severed head had been placed into a bag and was buried in the same grave.

The body was in the early stages of decay. Family members hurried to arrange the funeral for Pernal Tihpen who was in his 70's. The funeral was held beginning late that night.

Pohnpei's Director of the Department of Public Safety, Lucas Carlos said that in addition to Benjamin's oral confession he signed a written confession.

Benjamin has been in police custody since his confession on Monday.

On Friday, April 24, he appeared in Pohnpei State court for a bail hearing, shackled, and in the custody of two Pohnpei State Police officers. Prosecutors for the Attorney General's office asked that bail be denied both for Benjamin's protection and the protection of the community. The court agreed and Benjamin was sent back to jail pending his arraignment.

Bob Irwin, an American citizen and long term resident of the Wapar community said that he has known Benjamin for nearly 15 years. He said that Benjamin visited him at his home nearly every day for all of those years. Irwin helped Benjamin to learn some English and taught him how to grow his own garden. He said that he knew that Benjamin smoked a lot of marijuana but that he was always pleasant and helpful. He never expected Benjamin might someday harm another person much less decapitate his adopted father.

Irwin said that approximately one month before the incident, Benjamin started to change. He began to worry about people who wanted to "beat him up, hurt him, and kill him." The community didn't know what to do, said Irwin, and some people were beginning to get angry about the stories that he made up.

Irwin said that he didn't think that Benjamin was making the stories up but that he really believed them.

On Saturday Benjamin went to Irwin's house and asked to borrow his gun. He told Irwin that he wanted to kill himself. Irwin told him that he shouldn't talk that way. Even though the "gun" that Benjamin was talking about was only a BB gun he didn't give it to him.

Irwin said that on Saturday his neighbor asked Benjamin to get a drinking coconut for a sick relative. He brought the coconut back to the house but he had already drunk it. She scolded him and sent him out to get another one. When he returned a few hours later with the coconut he was "covered in blood". Irwin said that the neighbor asked Benjamin what had happened. He said that he had cut his hand with a machete while getting the coconut. She saw no cut on his hand.

When Pernal did not show up at church the next day as had been his habit for many years, neighbors became concerned about him and asked Benjamin about his father. He told some of them that he was at home and that he was okay. He waved others away agitatedly telling them to stay away because there were ghosts in the house.

On Monday he told neighbors that his father had gone into town and that he was okay.

He told neighbors that Bob Irwin and his Pohnpeian wife Airholla were bad people and that he should kill them. He claimed that the Irwin's had killed Jeff Fowler and buried him in his vegetable garden. Fowler is an American plumber currently doing business in Pohnpei. He lived for a month with Irwin at his home in Wapar. Benjamin also told neighbors that the Irwin's had also killed their own children and buried them as well.

The Irwin's had gone to Kolonia on the day that Benjamin told neighbors that he should kill them. It was also the day of the gruesome discovery in his vegetable garden.

Benjamin Hawley Tihpen's arraignment is scheduled for 10:00, Friday, May 1 at the Pohnpei State Supreme Court.