Last updated on February 3rd, 2016 at 05:10 pm
Fourteen-year-old Benjamin Lim Jun Hui was found dead late Tuesday. He had apparently jumped off a ledge outside his 14th-floor flat in Yishun. Family and friends are still trying to make sense of the boy’s unexpected demise.
Five plainclothes police officers showed up at Benjamin’s school on Tuesday morning. He was taken away for questioning for allegedly outraging the modesty of an 11-year-old girl. Police shared that an anonymous neighbour had filed a report against Benjamin. On Monday, the 25th of January, he had allegedly followed the girl into a lift at a block of flats nearby, and molested her. Police also said that they had visited the school "to establish the identity of a student who was captured on closed-circuit television footage at the lift lobby of an HDB block".
Benjamin was taken to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division Headquarters where he was interviewed for more than three hours by the police, before being released on a $2,000 bail. Shortly after returning home with his mother and sister, he locked himself in his room and jumped out the window. He did not leave a note. Police has classified the case as an unnatural death.
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Singapore Police Force said that Benjamin’s mother had been informed and updated on the status of the investigations at various stages. They added that Benjamin had cooperated fully with the investigation before being released at around 2.50 pm on Tuesday.
TOC approached Benjamin’s family to find out more about the circumstances behind his death.
Five-plainclothes police officers picked Benjamin up from school during school hours
Benjamin’s mother, Mdm Teng, said she received a call from her son’s handphone on Tuesday morning. A police officer informed her that Benjamin was assisting in an investigation of a case of molestation, and told her to pick him up from the police station at around 3pm.
Mdm Teng said she then asked to speak with her son. According to her, Benjamin told her during the conversation that he did not commit the alleged offence. But before he could continue any further, the phone was taken away by the police officer.
Family denied access to teen
Mdm Teng said she asked the same police officer if she could go to the school to see her son. However, she was told it was not necessary for her to do so. Instead, she was instructed to wait for police to call her. The officer then hung up.
Immediately after the police officer hung up on her, Mdm Teng and her daughter went to Benjamin’s school hoping to find out what was going on. When they arrived, they were shocked to discover that Benjamin had already been taken away by police. He was not accompanied by anyone from the school.
According to Mdm Teng, no one at the school could tell her what was going on. The Discipline Master was only able to give her vague details about Benjamin being accused of molestation.
At about 1pm, the police called Benjamin’s home again and told Mdm Teng that her son had been arrested for molestation.
Mdm Teng and her daughter then made their way to the Ang Mo Kio Police Division Headquarters and requested to see Benjamin. However, the request was denied.
According to Mdm Teng, she waited for about half an hour at the reception area before a police inspector asked her to follow him. She was then brought to an interview room where a Chinese-speaking officer questioned her about Benjamin's conduct and grades at school.
"I was puzzled why they brought me to be interviewed instead of bringing me to see my son," Mdm Teng told TOC.
The interviewing officer then told her Benjamin had confessed to commiting a crime, and that the offence had been captured on CCTV footage. Mdm Teng said she told the officer she could not believe her son would do such a thing and requested to see the CCTV footage. She said the police told her, "This is the police's investigation, not your investigation."
Benjamin was released at about 2.50pm. Neither he nor Mdm Teng received a copy of their police statement.
"You say I am guilty, I'm guilty then."
The SPF noted on Wednesday that Benjamin had not "exhibited any signs of being unduly distressed" throughout his two-hour engagement with them.
However, Mdm Teng told TOC that her son was not his usual self following his release. His hands were freezing cold and he hardly spoke. Benjamin’s sister added that he appeared somewhat “stunned”. She also queried the police’s assessment of her brother’s state of mind. "How can the police prove that Ah Hui (Benjamin) did not show any sign of being duly distressed?"
While waiting for the train at the MRT station, Mdm Teng asked Benjamin if he had indeed molested the girl. Benjamin told her he had not.
She then asked him, "Why then did you confess?”
According to Mdm Teng, this was what Benjamin said: "You say I am guilty, I'm guilty then."
Mdm Teng said she told her son that he should not have admitted to the crime if he did not do it.
Before she could continue, the train came and they had to stop their conversation.
Locked himself in his room
Prior to the police interrogation, Benjamin had been looking forward to attending a school camp. But shortly after returning home, a school counsellor called Mdm Teng to inform her that it was not appropriate for her son to attend the camp. He was told to stay at home instead. Mdm Teng said she was not able to discuss the issue further with the counsellor, who hung up promptly after delivering the message.
Mdm Teng said Benjamin showed no visible signs of emotion when she informed him of the school’s decision.
When Mdm Teng last saw Benjamin, he was playing with his handphone. A little later, she discovered that his bedroom door, which was normally kept open, was closed. Sensing that something was amiss, she used a spare key to get into the room. Benjamin was nowhere to be seen.
The window was open, and a table fan that once sat on Benjamin’s table was on the floor. Fearing the worst, Mdm Teng rushed to the ground floor. She cried as she told TOC what she saw next: her son’s body lying motionless on the ground.
Mdm Teng said that police were already on site when she arrived downstairs. They tried to stop her from going near Benjamin, but she insisted on seeing him.
Well-liked student in school and a loved child at home
Benjamin’s father said his son was a thoughtful young man who understood that his family was not financially well-off, and had been working part-time at McDonald’s to help lighten their burden.
His mother said he was well-liked by his co-workers.
"Many of the aunties there praised him for being a helpful and friendly boy,” she recalled with a smile and tears in her eyes. “They congratulated me for having such a good son."
Benjamin was also popular with his peers. Friends from the National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) attended his wake and gave his family a special tribute to their departed friend.
They also presented Benjamin with his sergeant rank.
The school’s reaction
When TOC visited Northview Secondary School, the vice-principal declined to be interviewed and sent two staff members to receive our questions. We have yet to receive any answers.
The New Paper, however, managed to speak to the principal. This is what he said:
"When the plainclothes police officers came to the school, we were discreet in bringing the student to the office to meet with the police."
The New Paper also reported that the principal ensured that the boy was able to finish his meal before being taken to the police station.
Despite the report, questions remain. Benjamin’s father told TOC he hoped the boy wasn’t summoned to the principal’s office via the school’s PA system. According to Mr Lim, his son had also not finished lunch when he was called. He was only allowed to return to the canteen with a counsellor, after visiting the principal’s office.
It was reported that only one plainclothes officer was allowed to talk to Benjamin, in the presence of the vice-principal and discipline master.
Mr Lim expressed disappointment over the response by the school authorities. He told TOC the principal did not share any information about what transpired between the police and his son at school, neither did the school explain the decision to exclude Benjamin from the school camp.
Mdm Teng told TOC she believed that news of the school not letting Benjamin attend the camp must have contributed to his decision to jump. She said it was the last thing the boy heard before locking himself in his room.
Disappointing response by the police
Mr Lim said he asked the police numerous questions, but their standard reply was, “No comment.”
“They are very arrogant and irresponsible,” he told TOC.
According to Mr Lim, police called him three days after Benjamin’s passing, asking for a meeting at the Ang Mo Kio Police Division Headquarters. He said he declined because he did not want to see them at the place where his son was interrogated.
Mdm Teng said she had asked to see the police officer who interviewed her son. “Only he would know what happened,” she said.
It is unlikely the interview was recorded. Outrage of modesty is not a seizable offence under Singapore law unless the alleged perpertrator is caught in the act.
"My son died a very unjustified death," exclaimed Mr Lim. "Why couldn’t they have waited until school was over? Why couldn’t they have waited till his parents were around?”
"My son died with his eyes open," Mdm Teng added. Mr Lim had earlier told media that a priest had tried to close his son’s eyes but they kept reopening.
When asked if the family would take action against the police, Mr Lim said, "My family is not so well-to-do so we do not know how far we can pursue the case. But although we are poor, we have our dignity."
TOC has sent queries to the SPF and will provide updates in the event of a response.
NOTE: TOC has received permission from the parents to share the photo of Benjamin. Benjamin is 14 years old and considered a minor, but what protection do minor's have, especially in such a case where one has so tragically died under such problematic circumstances?
If the authorities are concerned with protecting minors, the police should consider whether its policies related to the arrest of minors (below age of 16) are appropriate, and in compliance with the UN Convention to the Rights of the Child (CRC), Section 40, 2(b) that Singapore is a signatory to.
- Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) - 1800-221-4444
- National Family Service Centre - 1800-2220000
- Singapore Association for Mental Health - 1800-283-7019
- Care Corner Mandarin Counselling Centre - 1800-353-5800
- Touchline (Touch Youth Service) - 6273 5568
- Tinkle Friend: Children - 1800-274-4788 on weekdays