Lingering mysteries: Massive rioting (right photo) and looting (above photo) engulf the capital during the May tragedy that paralyzed the capital for days. JP
After the May riots that paralyzed the capital for days, people still remember how it changed the authoritarian regime, if not the country’s history.
But for the residents of Klender, East Jakarta, the May 1998 tragedy lingers in their minds as an urban legend about a haunted shopping mall.
It was not until 2000 that the Klender Mall was established. The shopping center in East Jakarta was known as the Yogya Department Store in the 1990s. The department store was set ablaze on May 13, 1998, killing hundreds of people trapped inside while dozens of others were injured.
“On certain nights, if you happen to walk in front of the Klender Mall, you feel like there is something strange. You hear people crying or yelling and your nose smells burning. In minutes, you will realize that there is actually nobody around but you,” said Rudi Ahmad.
The broken building might have been repaired, but the mysteries linger, Rudi said. “Did you notice that they let the broken public telephone booth in front of the building stay there? It is believed that the booth is spooky. There is a rumor, you will find someone appears from nowhere and stands there at midnight,” he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.
Rudi was just a toddler when the tragedy happened. However, Rudi knows much about the building’s spooky stories, thanks to his parents. The parents-to-children storytelling has popularized the urban legend.
There are also casual conversations among neighbors who share spooky stories while drinking coffee, washing clothes or buying vegetables.
Rudi said that all residents of Klender knew the haunted building. “You’re not a resident of Klender if you don’t know anything about the building.” he said.
Public minivan drivers, especially those who work at night, also know spooky stories. “I heard stories from minivan drivers who stop in front of the mall because they see some passengers. They look like shopkeepers or shoppers who carry plastic bags. Those people disappear after the minivan runs for 100 meters,” Rudi said.
Rudi said that local residents were familiar with the “unusual” situations.
Mira, a shopkeeper in an accessory booth inside the mall, said that spooky rumors did not frighten her. She acknowledged, however, that the building could bring a “cold” feeling.
“There are a lot of people on the ground floor, but not so many on the upstairs. It can be a little bit scary,” she said.
She knew little about the role of the building in the fall of a government the people blamed for a severe economic crisis.
As students had been restricted from taking to the streets, some universities staged their protests inside their campuses. On May 12, four students of Trisakti University in West Jakarta — Elang Mulia Lesmana, Hafidin Royan, Heri Hartanto and Hendriawan Sie — were all shot dead by unknown assailants while they were protesting to demand the resignation of then president Soeharto.
The incident was followed by massacres, arson, pillage, gang rapes and anti-Chinese riots on May 13 and 14, which claimed a total of 1,217 lives according to data from the Volunteers’ Team for Humanity, 1,190 of them burned alive as they were trapped inside blazing buildings in Greater Jakarta.
As many as 31 people were reported missing and 91 were wounded.
Witnesses told the volunteers that the Yogya Department Store in Klender was set alight by a group of sturdy men. The team reported that at least 288 people died in the building.
Despite the large number of fatalities, the government has never investigated the case.
The government formed a fact finding team to investigate the roots of the riots a few months after the incidents.
The team’s findings, however, have never been followed up by thorough investigation.
Another resident, Neneng Suryani, said she only had a blurred memory of what had happened during those days.
“Sure, we remember the spooky stories more than anything. It is because sharing rumors about the haunted building is more interesting than talking about politics,” she said.
As much as Neneng could recall, she said that she did not remember much about the causes of the demonstration in Klender.
“All I remember was that many people entered the building to loot. In the afternoon, I heard that many people were trapped inside and killed,” said the 30-something-year-old mother.