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Policeman reunites homeless man with family after 10-year absence
A DETERMINED police officer in the province of Cádiz managed to reunite a homeless man with his worried family in Romania, who had been searching for him for over a decade, going way above and beyond the call of duty in his two-year mission.
Jesús Varo, chief inspector of the Local Police in Barbate, got on the case in 2016 when residents on the Caños de Meca urbanisation reported a dishevelled man hanging around the bins.
His height and appearance frightened them, as well as the way he would talk to himself in 'a foreign language' and gesticulate constantly.
Varo interviewed him, found out his name was Karoly Schmolka and that he was Romanian, and lived in abandoned houses or ruins, sleeping on dumped mattresses – places which Varo said were so insalubrious that 'if anyone living an otherwise normal life slept there, they might not even wake up'.
Urbanisation residents said they were used to seeing him wandering around and that he was never violent or destructive – women say they passed him when walking alone at night and never had any concerns about him – but he always seemed to be 'living in a world of his own'.
Sometimes he would take all his clothes off and wander around the A-2233 motorway hard shoulder, risking his life, and he would often overturn bins for no apparent reason.
Local dwellers wrote an open letter to Barbate council, saying he was turning into 'a social problem', especially with his emptying their bins.
Chief inspector Varo said Karoly spoke in 'monosyllables', seemed to show signs of being autistic and understood Spanish although hardly spoke at all in any language.
The policeman wrote to the Romanian Consulate in Sevilla to find out if he had any family who could take care of him, since he did not appear on any missing persons list.
Via the Consulate, they found a man with the same name and surname, but older, who may have been his father, and contacted him.
The telephone did not work, so they sent a handwritten letter by ordinary post – but it did not occur to them until days later that they should have written it in Romanian.
However, just as they were about to rewrite the letter, a call came through from Romania.
“A man on the other end of the line who spoke perfect Spanish said they had received my message, and that Karoly's parents had been searching for him for 10 years, without success,” Jesús Varo explained.
“They wanted more information to find out whether he was indeed their son.”
Photographs were sent via WhatsApp – including the one above, of Karoly Schmolka raiding the bins in the Caños urbanisation.
“The man started sending me kisses via WhatsApp – he knew Karoly, the family wanted to talk to him via video conference to find out what was happening with him,” Jesús explained.
It turned out Karoly had moved to Zaragoza, Aragón in 2008 to work on the building sites, at a time when construction hands were in high demand, but had lost his job with the housing collapse – at which point, his family lost touch with him.
An emotional Skype call ensued, and whilst arranging for Karoly's parents – who are very elderly and live in a tiny village, Cluj-Napoca, some 600 kilometres from Bucharest – to travel to Spain to collect him, Jesús gave Karoly a reflective vest to wear as he was 'terrified something would happen to him' to thwart the reunion.
Getting a travel document for him involved scores of red tape, since Karoly was listed as 'missing, believed dead'.
Jesús and his colleagues had to give him a wash and change his clothing for a Red Cross tracksuit for the ID photograph.
Barbate police agreed to take him to Málaga where his cousin, who grew up with him, would meet him at the airport, and put him up on a bed in a cell overnight – but a moment's panic ensued when he escaped, apparently to go outside to the toilet, and had to be washed and changed again as he had 'defecated on himself'.
But they managed to get him on the plane with his cousin to Romania.
Jesús has kept in touch with Karoly's family ever since, hearing about their emotional reunion and how they are seeking medical treatment for him as he appears to be suffering from a severe case of PTSD.
Varo has a photograph of him from Romania – the second picture shown here - cleaned up and healthy, and hopes to hear that in a few years' time he will have recovered from his psychological illness enough to be able to chat to him about his ordeal.
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