“I don’t know what has happened,” Shafia told police

Three hours after police told Mohammad Shafia that his missing daughters were likely dead in a submerged car, he gave an officer a calm, hourlong account of the family’s actions in the previous 24 hours. “I don’t know what has happened,” the Montreal businessman said through an interpreter, in an interview with a detective that was videotaped at the Kingston Police station on the afternoon of June 30, 2009. “We woke up in the morning, didn’t see the car, didn’t see the kids, don’t know.”

Screen grab from a video shot at the Kingston Police station on June 30, 2009, in which Det. Const. Geoff Dempster (right) interviews Mohammad Shafia about the disappearance of four family members. An interpreter in the room is not visible

The interviewer, Det.-Const. Geoff Dempster, asked if Shafia had any idea, “a thought,” perhaps, about what happened.

Shafia said he had wondered if the missing people drove to Montreal.

“You know the car, your car, the Nissan, was found underwater?” Dempster asked.

Shafia acknowledged that the officer already had told him this.

“Any thoughts, any idea how it got there?”

Shafia said no. “This is the first time that such a thing happened,” he said.

Dempster began testifying Friday and the videotape was played for jurors at the murder trial of Shafia, 58, his wife, Tooba, 41, and their son, Hamed, 20. Each is charged with four counts of firstdegree murder. They have pleaded not guilty.

Prosecutors allege that the four victims died in an honour killing staged to look like a car crash into a shallow canal.

Shafia’s interview was conducted through an interpreter because he speaks limited English. The family, originally from Afghanistan, moved to Canada in 2007 and settled in St. Léonard.

At the time of the interview, police believed, though they were not certain, that four Shafia family members were dead in a car, a Nissan Sentra, found at the bottom of the Rideau Canal around 8: 30 a.m. Later in the day, the bodies of sisters Zainab, 19, Sahar, 17, and Geeti, 13, along with Rona Amir Mohammad, 52, were pulled from the car.

The father, mother and son had arrived at the Kingston Police station around 12: 30 p.m. on June 30 and reported that four family members and their Sentra were missing. Rona was described by Hamed, who speaks English and who filed the report, as his aunt. Police learned later that she was Shafia’s first wife.

Dempster told the trio that he believed the missing people had been found dead. He testified that his next task was to interview them separately.

Shafia appears relaxed in the video shot by a ceilingmounted camera in a small interview room. He often gestured with an arm or hand. No emotion was visible.

He explained the family was driving home from a vacation in Niagara Falls and decided to stop at a motel in Kingston around 1 a.m. because his wife was too tired to continue driving. They were turned away from the first motel where they stopped because it was full.

Shafia knelt onto the carpeted floor of the interview

room and traced an imaginary straight line to show that the motel where they stayed was on the same road as the first motel.

As soon as they stopped, Hamed drove on to Montreal, Shafia said, after telling his father he had work to do. The rest of the family went to sleep. Shafia said the Sentra was gone when they awoke the next morning.

“I just didn’t find the kids; that made me worried,” Shafia told his interviewer.

He explained that the four missing family members were sleeping in one of two motel rooms together. The remaining family members stayed in the other room.

Shafia called Hamed in Montreal and asked him to come back to Kingston so they could go to the police station, he told Dempster. Hamed returned in a different vehicle, the family’s Pontiac minivan.

Dempster asked why he didn’t drive back in the vehicle that the family had taken to Niagara Falls, a Lexus SUV.

“I don’t know why,” Shafia said.

Jurors have already heard that police believe the Lexus was damaged when it was used to push the Sentra over a stone ledge and into the canal. Police found the Lexus in the garage of the Shafia home on July 1 and photographed damage to its front left corner.

Dempster’s interviews with the mother and son will be played to jurors when the trial resumes Tuesday.

(This appeared first at the Montreal Gazette)

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