Nothing, it seems, grips a society like the disappearance of a child. For nine months, the Cecilia Zhang kidnap-murder case galvanised a nation. The picture of the nine-year-old Toronto girl was posted in taxis and buses. Fortunetellers and psychics joined the search. There were 'sightings' all over North America. Her classmates cut out 1,000 paper cranes, a symbol of good fortune. America's Most Wanted programme broadcast the story across the continent. Police interviewed 50,000 people. Her parents remortgaged their home to raise C$200,000 (HK$1.1 million), so they would be ready to pay a ransom. They issued open letters to the kidnapper, asking: 'Why are you so angry?' Although raised as agnostics, they found religion. Hope makes fools of us all. Even though it is well-known that the vast majority of kidnap victims, especially children, are killed within a day or two of their abduction, police insisted that 'we feel she's alive'. Reporters, touched by the grieving parents, were complicit, and few mentioned the low probability of her survival. But when Cecilia's body was found in March, the writers slipped over the edge. 'The immutable cruelty of life, on a day when the world out of decency should go dark and tremble ...,' wrote one. 'She is dead.' Another journalist talked about her 'shocking smallness'. All that was missing was a killer. And late last month, after what they called the most exhaustive investigation in Canadian history, police finally produced a suspect: a 21-year-old man on a student visa, named Min Chen. He had allegedly left a couple of fingerprints near the crime scene. There was no known motive. Police chief Noel Catney, breaking all the rules of due process, pronounced Min guilty. 'The most despicable of all criminals,' he said at a press conference, holding a blown-up photo of the suspect 'This is a child murderer.' The reporters, themselves no strangers to excessive language, did not remind the chief that Min had yet to face a judge and jury. He refused to apologise, even though his statement will make the prosecution case more difficult. He was merely voicing the feelings of the community, he said. The statement had sinister 'hang 'em high' echoes of the Wild West, but his colleagues, and most of the press, forgave him. Call it madness, or call it zeal, but the heated emotions then spilled overseas. Reporters in Shanghai besieged the suspect's parents, forcing the city's propaganda chiefs to step in. Just as quickly, the story disappeared from the front pages. But it still has life in Canada. It is in the national consciousness, and will continue to bedevil us, because we will never quite understand how something like this can happen.