Parents and police are worried that serial kidnappers are abducting young men from the town of Jincheng, Yunnan Province and forcing them to work in illegal coal mines and brick kilns.
Since January last year police have investigated six separate missing-person cases which they are treating as kidnappings. After almost 18 months on the case, they have few clues to go on.
"It's too early to draw any conclusion. We have already set up a special team to investigate the cases," Zhou Biao, deputy director of the public security department of Jinning county, in which Jincheng township is located, told the Global Times yesterday. "We will update the relatives of the missing and the public as soon as we have results."
The latest missing-person case was reported on April 25, when Han Yao, 19, disappeared around 9 am while on his way to deliver some documents to a construction site.
Han's employer and family soon reported the young man missing and police say they found no clues in his telephone and online chat records.
The frustrated family members have since started their own search for Han.
"To our surprise, we found that in the last five years similar cases happen frequently in this town. All of the missing are young men," Han Yao's uncle, Han Wei, told the Kunming-based newspaper Metropolis Times.
The local police confirmed that eight young men have been reported missing from the town since 2007, six of them in the past 15 months. None of them had any apparent reason or plan to run away. Only one has been diagnosed with a mental illness.
One of the most disturbing cases involves Xie Junhai, a 16-year-old student who left home to collect his report card on January 27 and never returned.
"I have searched more than 100 brick kilns. Some wouldn't let me enter. I had to plead with the local villagers to take me in. I have not found any trace of my son," said Xie's father.
None of the family members of the missing people returned calls to the Global Times. The reporter who broke the story told the Global Times that local police have told them to keep silent.
Lei Yusheng, 24, is apparently the only kidnap victim to have escaped his captors. He was abducted on April 7. He said two strong men who were armed with a sword pulled him into a van. He was then taken to brick kiln where he was forced to work with 30 other men from 2 am to 12 noon every day. He managed to escape on April 25.
The kidnapping cases have put local residents on alert.
"It makes me uneasy. It's terrifying that someone my age can be forcibly taken away in the middle of day. I'll be more cautious and always walk with friends," local resident Wang Xiaobo, 22, told the Global Times.