State Coroner Marvin Bay concluded on Friday (21 October) that an 11-year-old boy who was found dead at the foot of his Sengkang block along Fernvale Link, on 18 May around 7 am on the day he was to show his parents his mid-year examination results, was found to be “a deliberate act of suicide”.
The boy’s mother thought he was attempting suicide as she felt that her son had been affected by his examination results. However, his father believed that the boy was accidentally fell to his death in an attempt to close his window panel while standing on a chair installed with roller-casters.
Mr Bay said that while the accidentally fall scenario was theoretically possible, it was “highly implausible”.
The boy was said to be fairly stocky build, therefore, it is quite impossible for him to have extended himself so far out that he would lose his balance and fall through.
He also said that the modest width of each window meant that he would have been able to brace and support himself with one hand on the window frame while using the other to close the window.
As for suspecting for a foul play, Mr Bay said that there was no basis on the case. He also added that the boy was likely in a “state of considerable stress” as he would have to share his exam results with his parents.
Delivering his findings, Mr Bay urged parents and educators to remind children that their efforts in study may not always yield a commensurate result and also that such failures are transient or temporary events.
“Parents and educators should also constantly reassure them that they will always be there to help the child through each stumble, winding turn and setback in their education journey,” he added.
Mr Bay also reiterated the need to study youth suicides. Acknowledging the unique “stressors and influences that gravitate young persons in Singapore towards self-harm” today, Mr Bay said that a questionnaire to be used in interviews with the next-of-kin and witnesses following cases of youth suicide is set to be applied retroactively to unclosed cases that happened this year that have not been closed.
Mr Bay said that this is a first step to study and understand youth suicides. It will also prompt officers to look carefully into each case for “conditions such as depression, schizophrenia, autism, ADHD, impulse control and rage issues.”
Mr Bay added that officers will also ask about the presence of bullying, stalking, harassment, as well as difficulty in coping with studies, parental and peer relations, and the presence of prior suicide attempts.
The boy fell out of his 17-storey bedroom on the morning, he was supposed to collect his exam result and show to his parents.
Out of a full score of 100 points, the boy scored 50 for English, 53.8 for Chinese, 57.5 for science, 12 marks for Higher Chinese and 20.5 for mathematics, failing two of the subjects.
The boy was described by the school principal as an average performer who was generally able to cope with school and noted that Primary 5 students tend to see a dip in their results due to changes in the examination formation in preparation for the Primary School Leaving Examination – the examination that would determine which Secondary School they are eligible to study in.
The inquiry heard from the boy’s four teachers that the 11-year-old was quiet with no disciplinary issues. However, days before his death, he ‘uncharacteristically’ threw a bottle of water to one of his friends for being too noisy. He then said to his teacher that he was not able to control his anger.
One of the teacher testified the boy had been “visibly upset” upon receiving his marks for his Chinese and Higher Chinese exams.
His mother admitted that she would cane his palm once for every mark short of 70 marks. However, she would cane him only if his average score across all subjects was below 70 marks.
She was quoted to have said, “Sometimes, she would look through his examination papers first, and if they were difficult, she would not hit him.” and that the mother will reward him, such as buying a gift for him, if he did well.
On that tragic day, the boy was first dressed in his school uniform, while, he was supposed to put on his physical education attire, as he had a Wushu lesson that day. Therefore, his mother asked him to change his clothes.
The boy’s father said that he noticed that he was taking a longer time than usual to get ready for school. His mother tried to open the bedroom door, but it was locked. After using a spare key to unlock the door, they could not see any sign of the boy when they entered the room.
When they looked out of the window, they saw their son lying on a grass patch at the foot of their block. The mother then called the police at around 6.50 am.
Mr Bay said that based what he had heard from the witnesses, the 11-year-old boy appeared to have difficulty in understanding, and coming to terms with his precipitous fall in his grades. The boy appeared fearful of revealing his poor grades to his parents.
“In his desperation, he had woven a fictitious account of his grades to preserve an impression that he was coping well, and attaining grades that conformed to their pre-set expectations. He had tragically taken his own life, rather than face the remainder of the day.”