Singapore

River Valley High School death: Teen charged with murder, to undergo psychiatric observation

RVHS student had attempted suicide two years ago, will undergo psychiatric observation

A psychiatric observation has been ordered for a 16-year-old River Valley High School (RVHS) student after he was charged yesterday with murdering his schoolmate.

The 16-year-old appeared before a district court via video-link dressed in a red polo shirt.

His hair was dishevelled and his eyes darted around the room as he faced one charge of murdering a 13-year-old at a level-four toilet in the school between 11.16am and 11.44am on Monday.

The accused cannot be named as he is under 18 years of age.

The prosecution asked that the youth be remanded at Complex Medical Centre (CMC) in Changi Prison for psychiatric observation.

The police prosecutor told the court that preliminary investigations revealed the 16-year-old was assessed at the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) in 2019 after he had attempted to commit suicide.

He was taken into custody for his safety, referred to IMH for assessment, then discharged, the prosecutor said.

"Given the circumstances, we are submitting that he requires psychiatric evaluation," he said.

The accused, whose parents were not in court, was represented by lawyer Peter Keith Fernando.

Mr Fernando confirmed that his client's parents had informed him of the suicide attempt, which happened when the boy was in Secondary 2.

The boy will be remanded at CMC for psychiatric observation for three weeks and is scheduled to be in court next on Aug 10.

Those found guilty of murder may receive the death penalty. However, those aged below 18 will not get the death sentence but could be given life imprisonment instead.

In a post on his Facebook page minutes after the boy was charged, Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam called the incident "one of the worst things that can happen to parents".

"It's completely shocking because safety is assumed and normally (in Singapore anyway) assured," he wrote.

He added that the alleged attacker is also young and had a history of mental health issues.

AXE SEIZED

Mr Shanmugam also addressed questions about how the boy got an axe, which the police said on Monday they had seized.

"Preliminary investigations suggests that he purchased it online. But we will know the full facts only after investigations are completed," Mr Shanmugam wrote.

He added: "We all grieve with the parents of the boy who was killed. It's difficult to even describe the true extent of their grief."

At about 11.40am on Monday, the police found the younger teenager lying motionless with multiple wounds in a toilet.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Investigations revealed that the teenagers are not known to each other.

An axe was also seized as a case exhibit.

Students, their families and staff urged to seek support

Students, their families and teachers affected by the death of a 13-year-old River Valley High School (RVHS) student were urged to seek psychological support as government leaders expressed their sympathies to the boy's family yesterday.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on his Facebook page: "We are overwhelmed imagining what the victim's family are going through. Yesterday morning, they sent off their 13-year-old son to school. Suddenly, without any warning, he is no more."

He added that the teachers and students of RVHS are in shock and wrote: "We will help you walk through this dark valley, and come to terms with what has happened."

PM Lee urged the public to wait for the police to finish investigating, uncover the motivations and find out if something could have been done to avert it.

"Let us not worsen the trauma and grief of the affected families with speculation and rumour," he wrote.

Great emphasis is placed on safety in schools, and the well-being of teachers and students, he said.

"Our education system is not only about good academic performance, but also helping our kids to grow into happy and well-adjusted persons."

He urged staff and students to let the principal or school counsellors know if they are aware of a student who seems troubled or under stress.

"If sometimes things seem too much to bear, please remember help is always available, even if it's just to talk to someone about what's on your mind," he wrote, providing a list of helplines.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the Ministry of Education's (MOE) priority is to ensure the well-being of the school community.

TRAUMA

He announced on his Facebook page yesterday that RVHS students and staff will have access to MOE and school counsellors trained in trauma management over the next few days. They will be stationed at the school.

MOE has also reached out to staff and students affected by the incident.

Parents who feel that their children may need additional support can alert their teachers and schools through helplines that the schools have provided.

"For the longer term, we will continue to keep a close eye on students and staff who are still traumatised or show prolonged distress symptoms, and will refer them to professional help as necessary," said Mr Chan, adding that MOE will work with healthcare agencies and hospitals to render further support.

"As shown by the courage and resilience of the staff and students at RVHS, we will continue to stand strong, on this journey to recovery," he said. - THE STRAITS TIMES

COURT & CRIME