Tragedy Revisited: River Valley High School Incident Two Years Later
It has been two years since the harrowing River Valley High School slashing incident occurred, sending shockwaves across Singapore.
On 19 July 2021, the nation was shaken by reports that a 13-year-old Secondary One student at River Valley High School was fatally slashed on campus by a fellow student.
The accused, a 16-year-old student at the time of the crime, falls under the protection of the Children and Young Persons Act, which prohibits revealing his identity.
The tragic event unfolded when the teenager, struggling with depression, brought an axe and a knife to school, concealed in a badminton bag.
He initially hid these weapons under a sink in the toilet, failing to execute his initial plan.
On the fateful day of 19 July 2021, the accused left his classroom and armed himself with the axe in the toilet, awaiting a victim.
He chose Ethan, a student he did not know personally. After Ethan entered the toilet, the accused briefly stepped out to place tape across the corridor.
Following the attack, he expressed remorse, saying “I’m sorry” after repeatedly slashing the 13-year-old.
Holding onto his axe, the accused then calmly instructed other students to report him.
When the police arrived, they found the victim motionless with multiple wounds in a toilet.
A paramedic from the Singapore Civil Defence Force pronounced the young victim dead at the scene.
The teenage assailant was arrested, and the police seized the axe as evidence.
What Made Him Commit The Crime?
The community and the nation grappled with the question: What drove a young individual with a bright future to make such a devastating choice?
It was a deeply saddening revelation that his intent was not to harm others, but to end his own life.
Having failed previous suicide attempts, he believed that provoking a lethal response from the police, through attacking others, was his only escape.
According to The Straits Times, Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh informed the court that the teen had been battling suicidal thoughts since February 2019.
His condition worsened in April 2020, as he began watching graphic videos depicting death.
By Jan 2021, overwhelmed with the new school term, he contemplated ending his life, feeling despondent and withdrawn.
His thoughts turned to committing a mass killing at school, inspired by similar incidents reported in the news.
For four months, he refrained from acting on these thoughts but conducted extensive online research on stabbings, school shootings, attacks, and suicide methods.
He meticulously planned his “suicide” and even wrote a note on his mobile phone dated 5 July 2021, declaring his intent.
The weapons used were acquired over time: a tomahawk axe from one source, a Cold Steel Trench Hawk axe and sharpener from another, and a bushcraft stainless steel knife from a third retailer. He even had the axes and knife professionally sharpened and purchased a badminton racket bag to conceal them.
This raises the critical question of how a young boy managed to undertake such preparations unnoticed.
At the core of this tragedy was the accused’s battle with depression, which ultimately led to his fatalistic thinking.
Initially charged with murder, his charge was reduced to culpable homicide after a psychiatric assessment by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH).
The assessment confirmed he was suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) at the time of the incident.
Dr Kenji Gwee from the IMH, in a report dated 18 August 2021, and the accused’s lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, highlighted the significant family history of mental illness and the teen’s previous suicide attempts, according to The Straits Times.
The onset of depression, consumption of graphic content, and the desensitisation to violence played crucial roles in the incident.
Now 18, the accused has been sentenced to 16 years’ imprisonment after pleading guilty.
His lawyer sought a five-year sentence, emphasising the teenager’s efforts to improve communication with his family and expressing his father’s commitment to caring for him upon his release.
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