The Tragic Story Of Catalina, Killed By The Living Hell Of Romania’s Drug Sewers

Last month Channel 4 News reported the incredible story of people living in Romanian sewers. Now they’ve gone back to tell the story of 18-year-old Catalina, who died from AIDS-related illnesses last week.

1. When Channel 4 News uncovered a parallel society of sewer-dwelling people beneath Bucharest, they met a string of fascinating characters. Now one of them, Catalina, is dead.

Radu Ciorniciuc

2. Catalina lived among the community of drug addicts and died while queuing for drugs – in front of an icon of the Virgin Mary.

Radu Ciorniciuc

3. She told journalists Paraic O’Brien and Jim Wickens last month: “This is where I destroyed myself.”

Radu Ciorniciuc

She had contracted AIDS, and suffered from chronic pneumonia and heart failure. She had just turned 18.

4. Catalina was one of the main figures whom Channel 4 followed in a story that went around the world – the programme was invited to attend her funeral.

Radu Ciorniciuc

“For her getting some attention was an extraordinary experience,” says Carmen, her sister, “because now she felt valued in those moments. She was happy if anybody was looking out for her or giving her any attention.”

5. The journalists say: “We were ushered through the cobble stones and courtyard, past children playing in the dust and adults weeping by the door of the tiny tin roofed shack…”

Radu Ciorniciuc

6. “Catalina lay in the open casket veiled in a bridal gown, as is custom for Roma girls who die before their wedding day…”

Radu Ciorniciuc

7. “A priest stood to one side, chanting prayers as her sisters stood over her, fussing over the veil, or rearranging her beloved pink CD player that they had stuffed under her pillow, music to keep her company in the grave.”

Radu Ciorniciuc

8. On the day of the funeral, Bruce Lee (left) – the self-styled King of the Sewers — arrived barefoot and with his head painted with aurolac, bright silver paint that the addicts sniff.

Radu Ciorniciuc

9. Eliza, one of Catalina’s best friends who was filmed joking around in the tunnels weeks earlier, told C4: “We met in a foster house named Pinocchio. I hanged out with her everywhere. She was like a sister to me.”

Radu Ciorniciuc

10. Catalina was one of five siblings born into acute poverty and was abandoned as a baby.

Radu Ciorniciuc

11. The funeral procession, with its drug addict pall bearers, made its way through Bucharest, clashing with the size and grandness of the city above.

Radu Ciorniciuc
Radu Ciorniciuc

13. The procession made its way to the entrance to the sewers where Catalina lived.

Radu Ciorniciuc

“Gradually they begin to emerge, weary-eyed in the bright light above ground, clutching Aurolac bags to steady their nerves. A gaggle of diseased and destitute individuals who have lost their way in life, gathering around the body of one of their own who had lost her life,” the journalists say.

Radu Ciorniciuc

15. And then her body was put in the ground, surrounded by a small crowd who placed flowers on the casket.

Radu Ciorniciuc

Cosmina Nicolescu, the director general of the Social Assistance in Bucharest told Channel 4 News: “For them life no longer matters. They are outcasts, renegades that are avoided and they are primarily lacking love and understanding. It wasn’t their fault that they were born into this situation, or that they ended up in this situation.”

“As far as we know from the tunnels she didn’t want to be brought in the daylight. Her dying wishes, to die in the place where she had found family.”

Nicolescu says that they can’t close the tunnels for fear of pushing the vulnerable people who find sanctuary underground into ever-more precarious places and situations.

She also claims that Bruce Lee is banned from Bucharest, and has been removed several times before by the police. He just keeps on returning faster than the police return to take him away.

Today the tunnels alongside Bucharest’s central station remain open for both business and sanctuary, attracting youngsters like Catalina, who struggle to exist at the very bottom of Romanian society. Drug addiction and premature death the price paid for those who choose to live underground.

16. Watch the full programme tonight at 7 p.m. on Channel 4 and later on 4OD or the Channel 4 News website.

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Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
 
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