Hundreds of Bulgarians queued silently at a church on Friday in Ruse to pay their last respects to Viktoria Marinova, the television journalist whose brutal rape and murder shocked the country and triggered debates over freedom of the press.
The body of the 30-year-old Marinova, a host of a regional current affairs show at a local TV station, was found in a park near the Danube port of Ruse, her hometown, on Saturday. Police said she had been raped, beaten and strangled.
Marinova, who leaves a seven-year-old daughter, was buried later on Friday in Ruse Cemetery. More than 500 grieving Ruse citizens, carrying red and white carnations and funeral wreaths, flocked to the funeral service at the Sveta Troitsa (Holy Trinity) Cathedral.
People who knew her talked about her determination, responsibility and kindness, her charitable work and commitment to social causes such as support for disabled and disadvantaged children, about which she also reported.
“Viktoria’s death is a great loss for the whole city,” Zornitsa Koleva, 48, said. “She was so kind and ambitious at the same time. We all need to be united and show that we will do our best to prevent this from happening again in Ruse.”
A Bulgarian man, Severin Krasimirov, 20, was arrested in Germany over the killing, and German authorities said he would be extradited to stand trial in Bulgaria soon.
Bulgarian prosecutors said no evidence indicated Marinova’s death was related to her work. A random attack and sexual assault were the most likely motive, they said, although they were still investigating all possibilities.
“The extradition of the accused can be expected soon,” the superior regional court in Celle said in a statement.
Prosecutors say the suspect, identified in Bulgaria as 21-year-old Severin Krassimirov, confessed to being under the influence of alcohol and drugs when he got into an argument with a woman he did not know in a park.
They say he told them he hit her in the face and threw her into bushes but “denied the intent to kill”.
Prosecutors say Krassimirov, who was apprehended on Tuesday in Germany on a European arrest warrant, will be extradited within the next 10 days.
Bulgarian Interior Minister Mladen Marinov said on Wednesday that investigators had found DNA evidence on the clothes and body of Marinova, who was raped and strangled on Saturday in the northern town of Ruse.
“There is physical evidence to link to the murder,” Marinov said.
He said Krassimirov, a resident of Ruse, had a criminal record for scrap metal theft.
The minister said investigators had spoken to Marinova’s family and friends and “there is no apparent link to her work.” Tsatsarov, the chief prosecutor, said the evidence suggested it was “a spontaneous attack, not premeditated”.
“We cannot state at this point that her murder is linked to her professional activity. We are continuing to work on all possible options.”
On Tuesday, a Romanian suspect was arrested and later released in connection with the case.
Marinova was killed by blows on the head and suffocation, the authorities said, adding that prosecutors were probing all leads – both personal and linked to Marinova’s job. Her body was found on Saturday in a park.
The Bulgarian interior minister later confirmed to journalists that the victim had also been raped.
The attack has shocked the country and drawn international condemnation amid speculation the murder could be linked to Marinova’s work as a journalist.
An episode of her programme aired on September 30 featured interviews with two investigative journalists from Bulgaria and Romania who had been working on corruption allegations.
She is the third journalist to be murdered in Europe in the past 12 months after Jan Kuciak in Slovakia in February and Daphne Caruana Galizia in Malta in October 2017.