The prosecutors investigating the violent death of a 37-years old forest ranger in Romania’s Maramures region seem to favor the hypothesis that the man accidentally shot himself with his rifle. Moreover, the investigators claim they haven’t found evidence that the ranger’s death is connected to illegal logging as initially reported. Meanwhile, the local media revealed that one of the three suspects for the ranger’s death is the nephew of the town’s head prosecutor, who is known for her ties with the locals involved in the so-called “lumber mafia”.
The death of 37-year old forest ranger Liviu Pop on Wednesday evening, October 16, had a strong echo in Romania, as the initial reports suggested the man was shot by lumber thieves. State forestry company Romsilva said that Pop was the second ranger shot by wood thieves in just a month and revealed that 16 of its rangers were assaulted while on duty this year alone. The case even reverberated in the international media after the BBC covered the story.
The last hour in the ranger’s live
Liviu Pop was working as a ranger in a private forest near Targu Lapus. On Wednesday evening, he received a call signaling an illegal logging activity in the forest he was supervising. He called his district chief to inform him of the situation and went to the site. The district chief called the police. When the police arrived at the indicated place, they found the ranger dead in a meadow. He appeared to have been shot multiple times and had multiple bruises as well as a broken leg.
The investigators and representatives of the Forestry Department in Maramures initially spoke about an extremely violent murder. The initial hypothesis was that the ranger fought the presumed lumber thieves who managed to take his rifle and shoot him in the shoulder (from behind) and then shot at him several more shots. The prosecutors opened a murder investigation, Bogdan Gabor, head prosecutor with the Maramures Court officially announced at that time, according to Adevarul.
The ranger was married and had three children.
The secondary hypothesis: accidental self-shooting
Two days after the ranger’s death, the investigators had no suspects and, after hearing several people, developed a secondary hypothesis: the ranger shot himself by accident. They also seemed to believe that the incident had nothing to do with lumber theft. The investigators said they only found a cart with brushwood near the place where the ranger was found and there was no evidence that the wood had been cut from the respective forest.
“It’s a complex case. Several people were heard but no one was prosecuted so far. We don’t exclude any alternative, but there’s no way this is related to the lumber mafia, as it was said. Only some dried wood was found, which was picked up, and we don’t even know if it was cut from the respective forest. There are still a lot of tests to be made, including the ballistic expertise on the weapon,” said Bogdan Gabor on Friday, according to Adevarul.
The autopsy revealed that the ranger died due to the gun shots and internal bleeding due to multiple wounds.
Three witnesses but no official suspect
On Saturday, as ranger Liviu Pop was being buried in his home village – Borcut, the three men who witnessed his death, all from the same village, were free.
The three men, the last who had seen Pop alive, were heard by the investigators on Thursday morning, October 17, and then released. Moreover, the head prosecutor in Maramures county refused to tell the media who was the prosecutor in charge of this case and the names of the three suspects/witnesses.
“The suspects testified that Liviu asked them why they were stealing wood again and that he hit their cart with his hunting rifle. At that moment, they say, the rifle broke and accidentally unloaded in his right shoulder. Asked why the ranger had his leg broken, the three said that Liviu broke his leg after he was run over by the cart. They said the horses were frightened by the shot and ran to the valley and the ranger was caught under the cart,” an anonymous source in the suspects’ entourage told Adevarul.
They also told the investigators that they were in the forest picking up dried wood and not stealing lumber and the ranger found them as they were going back home. They also said they got scared and ran away after the incident.
One of the suspects is the town prosecutor’s nephew
Meanwhile, the locals don’t believe the hypothesis that the ranger shot himself while the ranger’s colleagues say he wouldn’t have kept his rifle loaded. However, the locals are afraid to openly speak about the case because of the connection between the lumber thieves and the local authorities.
Apparently, one of the suspects is the nephew of the head prosecutor in Targu Lapus, one of the most powerful people in the city. The locals claim that a bunch of influential people control the illegal lumber trade in the small town under the prosecutor’s protection. The suspects apparently worked for the same local timber moguls.
One local even claims that, on the day after the ranger’s death, the suspect carried a truck of firewood to his prosecutor-aunt’s house, Adevarul reported.
(Photo source: Romsilva Facebook page)
A forest ranger in Romania’s Maramures county was killed on Wednesday evening, most likely by lumber thieves. He was...