River Valley High School murder
The River Valley High School murder took place on 19 July 2021. On that day, a thirteen-year old, Secondary One male student was struck to death with an axe at River Valley High School in Boon Lay, Singapore. The suspected attacker was a sixteen-year-old Secondary Four male student, who was arrested shortly after the incident, which was reportedly unprecedented in the history of Singapore.
Attack and aftermath
The attack occurred between 11:16 a.m. and 11:44 a.m. local time at a fourth floor toilet in River Valley High School. A group of students encountered the suspect—a sixteen-year-old Secondary Four student—outside the toilet at 11:35 a.m. with an axe. When the suspect asked them to call the police, the students retreated to their classroom and instated a lockdown drill. The suspect then went to a classroom to make the same request, upon which the second group also instated a lockdown. Both groups alerted their teachers.
A teacher confronted the suspect and requested that the axe be placed on the floor. The suspect complied with the instruction and was escorted to a meeting room. The victim—a thirteen-year-old, Secondary One male student—was then found dead inside the toilet, having suffered multiple wounds allegedly caused by the axe.
The suspect was subsequently arrested by the Singapore Police Force. The entire school was placed into lockdown until around 3:30 p.m. As the following day was Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday, students returned to the school on 21 July. In the days following the attack, counselling was provided for nearly 540 students and teachers, while personnel from the Ministry of Education took over some classes.
According to a statement released by the Singapore Police Force several hours after the incident, preliminary investigations revealed that the two male teenagers are not known to each other." It was also revealed that the alleged perpetrator had previously attempted suicide two years before and had been remanded in the Institute of Mental Health. He is alleged to have procured the axe used in the attack online. According to Channel 8 News, the suspect had simply wanted to attack the first person to enter the toilet.
The Secondary Four student, who cannot be named due to Singaporean law on account of his age, was charged with murder on 20 July and remanded at the Complex Medical Centre within Changi Prison for psychiatric evaluation. As a minor, he is protected by the Children and Young Persons Act and cannot be sentenced to death if found guilty of the murder charge, with the maximum sentence being life imprisonment. Criminal lawyer Peter Fernando was assigned to defend the suspect in his trial.
On 10 August, a fresh court order was issued to extend the suspect's period of psychiatric remand by another two weeks. By then, Fernando had been replaced by Diana Ngiam and Sunil Sudheesan. The suspect was allowed a phone call with his family three days later. He was further remanded on 24 August 2021 for seven days, even though he had completed his psychiatric evaluations. On 31 August, his case was adjourned to 19 October. No date for his trial was scheduled at present. It was also revealed the suspect had been allowed to meet his family, and that he would be transferred to Changi Prison.
On 30 December 2022, it was reported that the boy remained in remand pending trial, and under the arrangements made between the prison authorities and the boy's lawyer Sunil Sudheesan, the teenager had taken his O-levels as a private candidate while behind bars in November 2022. His case was expected to be heard on 25 January 2023.
On 24 February 2023, the murder charge against the student, who turned 18 in January, was reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder, an offence which was punishable by life imprisonment or up to twenty years in prison, in addition to caning. The boy was set to plead guilty in August 2023 to the reduced charge. He was also found to have been suffering from clinical depression at the time of the incident after he was assessed by Institute of Mental Health (IMH) doctors.
Lawsuit and sentence
The prosecution, sought 12 to 16 years' jail for the offender, and the defence had asked for 5 years' imprisonment. On 1 December 2023, the judge sentenced the offender to 16 years of imprisonment. On the same day, the court lifted the gag order on the identity of the victim, Ethan Hun Zhe Kai, at the request of his parents. The offender's parents was also reportedly wrote Ethan's family a letter of apology shortly after their son was killed and Ethan's parent reportedly forgive the offender.
According to local newspaper The Straits Times, the attack was unprecedented in the history of Singapore. Both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing wrote on Facebook that they were "shocked", while the Ministry of Education and River Valley High School said that they were "deeply saddened" by the incident. President Halimah Yacob opined that "parents, schools and our society are ill-equipped to deal with this situation." Minister for Law and Home Affairs K. Shanmugam said that it was "difficult to even describe the true extent of their (the victim's parents') grief". Several other Cabinet members and local religious leaders also publicly commented on the attack.
The attack sparked concerns over mental health in Singapore. Member of Parliament Patrick Tay questioned the decision to return students to school a day after the attack. Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing defended his decision and replied that the ministry had decided that it was better for the students to grieve together than alone at home. Students were allowed to stay home if they chose.
In a Ministerial Statement, Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing announced on 27 July the removal of Common Last Topics from the GCE N, O and A-Levels, and some topics from the final year examinations "to help ease stress". Measures were also put in place, including having all teachers equipped with enhanced mental health literacy, boosting the number of teacher-counsellors from 700 in 2021 to more than 1,000 several years later, recruiting more school counsellors or redeploying teachers to these roles, resuming CCAs at the secondary and pre-university level due to vaccinations, and dedicating more time to check on students' well-being. Measures to strengthen schools' security will be undertaken without eroding trust in the community. A buddy system was later proposed to be implemented in schools.
MOE's mismanagement in student's mental health allegement
A 2-hour CARE programme was arranged for River Valley High School students after the attack occurred. A group of students reportedly criticised the programme for being “not well thought through”. A worksheet on coping mechanisms in which one of the strategies was “I was made for this challenge” was pointed out by student and remarked “…some if not all of us found this particular option very inappropriate as a coping mechanism. It had no substance in helping us cope with the situation but downplayed what we’ve gone through because of the one size fits all solution worksheet they offered.” and further remarked that “It felt like they just wanted to quickly pack matters up and move on”
Controversial remark by MOE official
About 97% of the River Valley High School students returned to school on Wednesday (21 July 2021) according to Wong Siew Hoong, the MOE's Director-General of Education at the time. Wong also made a statement praising the "resilience" of the students, stating that “we are proud of them”, when interviewed by the news media. The statement was criticised on the internet and some public disagreed, remarked that more time should be given to the students and parents for process the incident. Some public also commented on the internet that the students have "no choice".
- 19 July 2021, a sixteen-year-old Secondary Four male student struck a thirteen-year old Secondary One male student to death.
- 20 July 2021, No school lesson on this day as it is Hari Raya Haji, a public holiday in Singapore. The attacker was charged with murder on this day and remanded at the Complex Medical Centre within Changi Prison for psychiatric evaluation.
- 21 July 2021, River Valley High School students returned to the school.
- 27 July 2021, Ministry of Education removed certain Common Last Topics from the GCE N, O and A-Levels, and some topics from the final year examinations.
- 31 August 2021, court adjourned the case to 19 October.
- November 2022, The attacker had reportedly taken his O-levels as a private candidate while behind bars.
- 24 February 2023, the murder charge against the student, who turned 18 in January, was reduced to culpable homicide not amounting to murder.
- 1 December 2023, the culprit was sentenced to 16 years of imprisonment. Court lifted gag order on the identity of the victim.
- River Valley High School (Singapore) official website
- Teenager charged with murdering fellow student at River Valley High School, CNA, 20 July 2021.
- How River Valley High School tragedy unfolded: Student seen holding axe, asking others to call police, The Straits Times, 27 July 2021.
- River Valley High School death: Police seize axe after Sec 4 student allegedly kills Sec 1 student, 19 July 2021.
- 'Serious incident' at River Valley High School involving Sec 1 boy; Sec 4 male student assisting with police investigations, 19 July 2021.
- Solemn mood at River Valley High School as students return to campus, The Straits Times, 21 July 2021.
- About 540 River Valley High School students and teachers have sought help after alleged murder of Sec 1 student, The Straits Times, 27 July 2021.
- Teenager arrested for suspected involvement in the death of 13-year-old victim. Singapore Police Force (19 July 2021). Retrieved on 19 July 2021.
- River Valley High School death: Early investigations suggest axe bought online, says Shanmugam, The Straits Times, 20 July 2021.
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- River Valley High School student remanded for two more weeks for psychiatric evaluation (10 August 2021).
- Teen accused of murdering River Valley High School student allowed video call with parents (13 August 2021).
- Teen accused of murder at River Valley High School to be remanded further, psychiatric evaluation complete (en). CNA (24 August 2021).
- River Valley High School student charged with murder has been meeting family (31 August 2021).
- River Valley High School student charged with murder of schoolmate took O levels in remand (30 December 2022).
- Teen linked to River Valley High School slashing has murder charge reduced to culpable homicide (24 February 2023).
- Teen accused of murder at River Valley High School gets charge downgraded to culpable homicide (24 February 2023).
- Teen accused of killing boy at River Valley High School to plead guilty to culpable homicide (6 April 2023).
- River Valley High School incident: How to help children process traumatic events, 25 July 2021. Template:Closed access
- 'Words fail us because we can't understand': PM Lee on River Valley High tragic incident, 20 July 2021.
- Singapore police to charge 16-year-old with murder after alleged attack on 13-year-old in secondary school, 19 July 2021.
- Goh, Yan Han. More can be done for youth facing mental health issues: President Halimah, 23 July 2021.
- Singapore shocked by killing of boy, 13, at school, 20 July 2021.
- Tay, Hong Yi. Religious leaders from 10 faiths pray for teen who died and for S'pore, 24 July 2021.
- 'Schools need a lot more resources and support to help students with mental health issues': President Halimah, CNA, 23 July 2021.
- To show more empathy to those who need help, let's recognise mental health goes beyond resilience, Today, 7 August 2021.
- Commentary: Life after a traumatic event and the problem with the resilience narrative, CNA, 1 August 2021.
- Ministerial Statement by Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister for Education, for the Parliament Sitting on 27 July 2021 (27 July 2021).
- Lighter load for national and year-end school exams to help ease stress: Chan Chun Sing (27 July 2021).
- MOE to strengthen support networks in schools; all teachers to get enhanced training on mental health literacy (27 July 2021).
- Schools should not be a fortress but a second home: Chan Chun Sing on balancing security needs (27 July 2021).
- Security measures in schools to continue to be updated in ‘targeted’ manner without affecting 'homeliness': Chan Chun Sing (27 July 2021).
- MOE looking at buddy systems to help students cope with problems: Chan Chun Sing, The Straits Times, 31 July 2021.