River Valley High School death:Teen sentenced to 16 years’ jail for killing schoolmate with axe in 2021, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

River Valley High School death:Teen sentenced to 16 years’ jail for killing schoolmate with axe in 2021

Suffering from depression, a 16-year-old student at River Valley High School bought several weapons, including a combat axe, between March and April 2021.

Now 18, he was sentenced to 16 years’ jail after pleading guilty on Dec 1 to killing a fellow student with an axe.

He had planned to commit suicide by slashing people in school, so the police could shoot him to death.

On July 14, 2021, he took the axe and a knife to school in a badminton bag, which he hid under a sink in the toilet, but failed to follow through with his plan.

He tried again on July 19, 2021.

At about 11.15am, he left his classroom and waited in the toilet, armed with the axe, and repeatedly slashed a 13-year-old student who entered the toilet. The two were not known to each other.

The assailant, who cannot be named under the Children and Young Persons Act, pleaded guilty to a charge of culpable homicide. 

A previously imposed gag order on the name of the victim, Ethan Hun, was lifted by the High Court at his parents’ request.

The accused was originally handed a murder charge, but it was reduced in February to one of culpable homicide.

The teen, who has been in remand since the incident, took his O-level examinations as a private candidate while in custody.

On Dec 1, his lawyer, Mr Sunil Sudheesan, told the court that the teen has a significant family history of mental illness on his father’s side.

He said the boy made two attempts to commit suicide in 2019, but his family did not realise the severity of his condition. He was then assessed by the Institute of Mental Health to have an adjustment reaction.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Sean Teh told the court the teen started having suicidal ideations in February 2019.

In April 2020, the boy started watching videos depicting actual scenes of human death.

In January 2021, he felt overwhelmed during the new school term and thought about killing himself. “The accused’s mood was low, and he did not want to interact with people or deal with school responsibilities,” said the prosecutor.

Having failed in his previous suicide attempts, he felt the only way he could overcome the psychological barrier of taking his own life was by getting someone else to kill him.

He eventually decided to go on a killing spree in school, so the police would have to shoot him.

Between February 2021 and March 2021, he wrote two poems, which alluded to mass killings conducted in a school.

Between March 2021 and July 2021, he did numerous online searches for stabbings, school shootings and attacks, and suicide.

He also wrote a note on his mobile phone dated July 5, 2021, which stated his intent to commit suicide.

On March 6, 2021, he bought a Tomahawk axe from a store.

On March 17, 2021, he bought a Cold Steel Trench Hawk axe measuring 50cm by 22cm and a sharpener from a second store.

In April 2021, he bought a Bushcraft stainless steel knife measuring 23.5cm by 4cm from a third store.

The names of the stores were not mentioned in court.

He sent the axes and knife for sharpening at a store offering sharpening services at least once, and bought a badminton bag to hide the weapons.

On July 14, 2021, he arrived in school earlier than usual, with the axe, the knife, the badminton racket bag, and a roll of “caution tape” with black and yellow stripes in his backpack.

He headed for one of the toilets in the school, and cordoned off the corridor with the tape to prevent other students from going in.

He then placed the badminton bag containing the weapons under a sink, and returned to his classroom.

He waited in a cubicle for an opportune time to attack someone, but could not bring himself to do so.

On July 19, 2021, he again left the bag of weapons under a sink and pasted the “caution tape” across the corridor before returning to his classroom.

When he returned to the toilet at about 11.15am, the tape was hanging only on one side of the wall and there were students in the toilet.

He waited for them to leave, then closed the toilet door and windows to prevent the prospective victim’s screams from being heard.

At about 11.30am, after Ethan entered the toilet, the accused went out briefly to paste the tape across the corridor.

He then attacked Ethan and said, “I’m sorry”.

DPP Teh said the assailant claimed he felt catharsis and regret after the attack, and decided not to kill anyone else.

At about 11.35am, the teen left the toilet with the axe, and approached other students to call the police, but they ran away.

He complied when a female teacher asked him to drop the axe, which she then kicked away from him.

When the teen told her he had killed someone and asked her to call the police, she asked to see the body to confirm what he had told her.

When she saw Ethan on the toilet floor, she ran to seek help and bumped into a male teacher who was on his way to the scene after a student called him.

While the female teacher was contacting the school authorities, the teen called the police and reported: “I just killed someone. With an axe. I don’t know who. Are you going to send someone or not?”

The male teacher then called the police when he saw the body.

Paramedics and police officers arrived at about 11.50am, and the teen was arrested.

A psychiatric report from Dr Kenji Gwee from the IMH on Aug 18, 2021 said he was suffering from major depressive disorder (MDD) around the time of the killing.

Factors that contributed to the killing include the onset of depression, which accentuated the teen’s fatalistic thinking.

The consumption of the videos desensitised him to the physicality and gore when taking a life, said the report.

DPP Kumaresan Gohulabalanteen said this case of homicide was one that was truly unprecedented.

He sought between 12 and 16 years’ jail, saying that the killing was meticulously planned in the months prior.

“The facts show that the deceased, a young boy, was killed in cold blood as part of the accused’s detailed and methodical plan,” he said in sentencing submissions.

Mr Sudheesan sought five years’ jail. He said the teen has made proactive efforts to be more open in his conversations with his family, sharing more about his attitudes, problems and emotions.

The teen’s mother has completed a course in youth work, while his father is going through the same course.

The teen’s mother also took on a new job concerning youth mental health, while his father has committed to retire from his job to take care of his son upon his release.

Their son’s sentence has been backdated to July 19, 2021, when he was arrested.

A previously imposed gag order on the name of the victim, Ethan Hun, was lifted by the High Court at his parents’ request. PHOTO: FAMILY OF ETHAN HUN

Ethan’s parents were not in court, but their lawyer Mervyn Cheong was present to follow the case on their behalf.

In a statement through Mr Cheong, Ethan’s parents said: “We are heartbroken. We believe many who know Ethan will be too.

“Yet, we want to encourage everyone to remember Ethan fondly instead. Remember him for his goodness, his kind heart, and his peace-loving nature. Remember that he would want us to be happy.”