River of Love members questioned by police over murder suspect's links

Murder suspect Abner Aquilina is reported to have attended a River of Love ceremony a few hours before he allegedly murdered Paulina Dembska in Sliema

Abner Aquilina (left) reportedly attended a River of Love ceremony hours before the gruesome murder
Abner Aquilina (left) reportedly attended a River of Love ceremony hours before the gruesome murder

Police have questioned several members of the evangelical Christian group River of Love over the possible links murder suspect Abner Aquilina had with the group, according to reports.

Aquilina was arrested shortly after murdering Polish student Paulina Dembska on 2 January in a public garden in Sliema. She was raped and strangled according to an autopsy and so far, no link was established between her and Aquilina.

Aquilina's police interrogation had to be suspended because doctors referred him to Mount Carmel Hospital. Investigators are now trying to establish Aquilina's movements prior to the murder and are following leads that hours before committing the crime he had attended a River of Love ceremony.

Times of Malta reported on Thursday that police have questioned several members of the Christian organisation. An eye witness told the newspaper that Aquilina attended a River of Love ceremony the night before Dembska was brutally murdered.

Aquilina is understood to have joined members of River of Love for a gathering in Żejtun and was meant to sleep over at a church member’s house, but failed to do so. It is still unclear what happened between the time Aquilina left the house at around 2am and the murder.

One family member of Aquilina told Times of Malta that the accused had first mentioned the evangelist church some two years ago.

Aquilina was urged to seek help in dealing with a severe drug addiction, but he started attending River of Love, with a family member claiming to have witnessed “brainwashing” first-hand.

Footage on social media shows Aquilina in the company of members of the Christian group on New Year’s Eve at Xrobb l-Għaġin, two days before the murder.

River of Love had distanced itself from Aquilina, when contacted by MaltaToday. “We do not know anything about this man. He was not part of River of Love ever or at any time,” River of Love pastor Gordon Manche told MaltaToday. “New people walk-ins come all the time, and just like every church we don’t control who visits.”

Aquilina is currently under medical observation ahead of charges being filed.