Singapore

Sembawang hostage situation was over a lovers' tiff

Two-year-old boy rescued unharmed after police break into couple's flat

It started as a lovers' tiff and escalated into a 17-hour stand-off with the police after a man locked himself in a Sembawang flat with his girlfriend's two-year-old son on Tuesday evening.

The stand-off ended at around noon yesterday when the police stormed into the fifth-storey unit and apprehended the 39-year-old man. The boy was rescued unharmed.

The man was arrested for wrongful confinement, possession of a scheduled weapon and drug-related offences,

His girlfriend, a widow in her 30s with four young children, was also arrested at the scene for drug-related offences.

 

 

The 17-hour stand-off is believed to be one of the longest in which the police's Crisis Negotiation Unit (CNU) has been involved.

 

OVERNIGHT: At 4.15am, the man spoke to negotiators for about five minutes (above) but at 6.45am (below), the situation was still at a stalemate.​

This is how the drama unfolded:

THE SPARK

After the couple moved into the one-room rental flat about a year ago, neighbours often heard them quarrelling, mostly over money and his accusations of her infidelity. (See report, far right.)

She, on the other hand, was upset over his possessiveness and attempts to control her every move.

On Tuesday afternoon, he asked her to run an errand, and she left her two-year-old son alone at home with him.

She took the opportunity to complain to her mother about her problems with him.

Mother and daughter returned to the flat at Block 462, Sembawang Drive, where the mother confronted the man.

They had a tearful and furious argument, which sparked the situation that turned into the 17-hour stand-off.

The man refused to open the door and challenged them to call the police.

A 36-year-old housewife told The New Paper that her 57-year-old mother, who lives a few doors away from the couple, witnessed the incident.

The woman, who wanted to be known only as Ms Rosli, said: "My mum heard a row between the man and the two women at about 5pm. The women were outside the flat, and he was shouting at them to go away.

"My mother heard one of the women shouting at the man to let the boy go because 'he's not yours'."

THE PHONE CALL

Mr Iskandar Mariano, 32, an event coordinator who lives down the corridor, heard the couple quarrelling and a child screaming at around 5pm.

A woman, whom he recognised as the widow, came over, looking distressed, and asked to use his home phone.

"She looked like she was under a lot of pressure and in need of help," he told TNP.

"She looked blank and confused, as if she was in a dilemma about who to call. She even forgot the number she wanted to call."

Not wanting to intrude, Mr Iskandar walked away and did not overhear her phone conversation.

"Afterwards, she went back to (stand outside) her unit, and continued to quarrel with the man."

The police received a call about the incident at 6.44pm.

When officers from Ang Mo Kio Police Division arrived, the man refused to open the metal gate to let them in.

Mr Iskandar said: "I heard the man was taking drugs with the door open when the police arrived."

THE STAND-OFF

The CNU was activated to negotiate the safe release of the boy, and the Special Operations Command (SOC) team was deployed in case there was a need for forced entry.

TNP observed the man, dressed in a white shirt, pacing around the flat as the night went on.

He appeared calm and was not armed.

Several SOC officers were seen standing outside the flat at about 10pm as the negotiations continued.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) sent a fire engine, a Red Rhino, two fire bikes, an ambulance and three support vehicles.

As a precaution, a safety life air pack was deployed at the foot of the block and the Disaster Assistance and Rescue Team was on standby.

TNP understands that more than 100 officers from SCDF and the police were deployed.

At 4.15am, the man appeared at the gate and spoke to negotiators for about five minutes.

The child was unharmed and had access to food and water while he was confined in the flat, said Dr Lim Wee Kiak, the MP for Sembawang, yesterday morning.

Around noon yesterday, the police saw an opportunity to take action.


Police force open window, cut gate

FLAT: The burnt gate after the police cut through the lock. TNP PHOTOS: AHMAD FARUQ ROZALI

THE RESCUE

SOC officers broke into the flat through the windows to rescue the boy, while the front gate was cut for other officers to enter and arrest the man, said the police in a statement yesterday.

IN ACTION: (Above) Special Operations Command officers cutting the lock of the metal gate. Meanwhile, the team getting ready in the corridor of the fifth storey. They then entered the flat and arrest the 39-year-old man. PHOTOS: COURTESY OF SINGAPORE POLICE FORCE

During the operation, the sound of breaking glass could be heard and sparks could be seen as the gate's lock was cut.

The man was taken out in handcuffs, with a blanket draped over his shoulders, and put inside a police car.

The boy was later assessed by para­medics, but was not taken to hospital.

He was physically unharmed throughout the operation, and the police are working with the Ministry of Social and Family Development on his well-being.

Police investigations are ongoing.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Lian Ghim Hua, who was in charge of the operation, said: "It was a challenging operation as the safety of a two-year-old child was involved, and the negotiations were also protracted, running to some 17 hours.

"Securing the safe release of the child was my top priority. I am glad the operation turned out well with the child safely secured through a coordinated operation involving officers from various police units and SCDF."

THE AFTERMATH

FLAT: The one-room rental flat was simply furnished. TNP PHOTOS: ISKANDAR ROSSALI, AHMAD FARUQ ROZALI

The media were later allowed to gather outside the unit where the hostage situation took place.

The metal gate was burned where the police had cut through the lock, and there was debris on the floor. Glass shards from shattered window panels were scattered all over the corridor. The one-room flat was furnished simply with a queen size bed, television and fan.

Five of the woman's relatives were seen entering the flat. They declined to speak to the media.

A resident on the sixth storey, who wanted to be known only as Madam Aliyah, 55, said she felt relieved.

"I couldn't sleep the whole night, I even called my boss to tell him I couldn't come to work today," she said.

"I was praying for the boy the whole night. I was so relieved when they rescued him."


Neighbours: Couple frequently argued

The couple moved into a one-room rental flat on the fifth storey of Block 462, Sembawang Drive, about a year ago.

The woman is a widow with four young children. The 2-year-old boy in the centre of the drama is her youngest.

Her other children were with their grandmother in Woodlands when the incident happened, said Sembawang GRC MP Lim Wee Kiak.

Neighbours in the rental block said they often overheard the couple arguing over money and infidelity.

The quarrels got violent sometimes, with the neighbours hearing glass breaking, doors slamming and furniture being dragged around.

A neighbour, who lives on the third storey and wanted to be known only as Ms Ana, said she saw the couple arguing at the void deck two weeks ago.

"They quarrel every day, sometimes into the wee hours. I often hear the baby crying and the television turned on loudly," she said.

POLICE

Ms Ana, 38, who is self-employed, added that the police were called to the unit after one argument two months ago.

Another neighbour, Madam Masdia Gea, 33, who lives on the same floor, said: "I told my children to ignore their quarrelling.

"They always slam the doors, and they have been fighting ever since they moved in a year ago."

But the housewife added that the couple were friendly, and did not cause any trouble to their neighbours.

"They would usually just say 'hi' and 'bye' and smile when we meet in the corridor," she said.

A young child, almost three years old, was being held, and it must have been traumatic... Our officers moved in, it was a very successful operation... But that is what we do every day. Our officers deserve congratulations for having done well. A life is saved but again, it brings home the problem of drugs.

- Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, K. Shanmugam

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