NEWS that seven boys from the community are the suspects in a deadly fire at a tahfiz centre on Thursday has been greeted with shock mingled with sadness by the folk of Kampung Datuk Keramat.
Residents said they were unaware there were delinquency problems in the urban Malay village as people here kept mostly to themselves.
Some sighed at what youngsters had become in the “modern world”.
Police yesterday announced that seven boys aged from 11 to 18 had been arrested over a pre-dawn fire in the dormitory of Darul Quran Ittifaqiyah, which killed 21 pupils and two teachers.
None of the suspects were attending school or employed. Six out of the seven also tested positive for drug abuse, and two of them had a criminal record.
Long-time resident Diana Salamin said the young people in the area usually minded their own business, and expressed surprise at the youth of the suspects in the case, which police have classified as murder and causing mischief by fire.
“I don’t know about gang problems here. I only know that there is a group of kids who will hang out at a nearby coffee shop at night during the weekends.
“Three generations of my family have lived here since 1973. There has never been such a thing as arson and the like here.
“(Sometimes) kids are just rude but they don’t hurt anyone. I never thought they would do something like this,” the 34-year old mother of one told The Malaysian Insight last night.
Police said initial investigations revealed that the motive appeared to be taunting between the boys and tahfiz students that got out of hand.
Nur Hayati Abdul Halim said if there were problems with delinquents and dropouts in the neighbourhood, the community would generally turn a blind eye.
“People here tend to keep to themselves. Like me, I go out early in the morning to drop my kids at school and come back in the evening after work; by then I am too tired to mind other people’s business.
“Generally, we kampung people will just mind our own business. I reach home and close the door, I don’t think about what is happening outside,” the 46-year-old said.
Nur Hayati said she had never encountered gangsters, drug addicts or delinquents in the nine years she had lived here.
“If there are, I think they would keep to themselves. That is why I am surprised to hear the news that teenagers allegedly caused the fire.”
Another mother, however, said the area was known to have young drug addicts.
“This area is known for drug addicts. Not only near the school but everywhere around. There are a lot of them. Imagine a seven- or eight-year-old, smoking in the open without a care,” said Lia Fazlina Mustaffa, who has one child.
“If anyone were to try to advise the kid, his parents would come knocking at the person’s door asking, ‘why are you so nosy?’. It’s just how the community is.”
Teacher Abdullah Mohd Zamri said he was not surprised that the suspects were so young as “youth these days can do anything.”
“I am not angry but I am sad. I am said because we are still a society that takes these things lightly,” said the 24-year-old who teaches at SK Danau Kota 2. He is not a resident of Kampung Datuk Keramat.
He said the tahfiz school should have conducted fire drills and ensured there was easy access to fire extinguishers.
He also said arsonists should be punished according to the Islamic principle of “an eye for an eye”.
“But (ultimately) it is up to the authorities.”
Muhamad Hafiz Johari, who was also visiting the village, also said he was not surprised that the suspects were teens and pre-teens.
He blamed their errantry on the modern way of life, but he urged society not to judge the seven boys.
“I am not surprised. I only hope that society doesn’t go overboard in judging them over what has happened. There is no point in seeking revenge,” he said.