cw: death, murder, violence
On 19 July 2021, a 16-year-old Secondary 4 student was arrested at River Valley High School. The police have said that he will be charged with the murder of a 13-year-old Secondary 1 student, who was found in a school toilet with multiple wounds. The authorities are seeking a court order to remand the 16-year-old for psychiatric assessment. An axe was seized as evidence.
I light a candle
By Yu-Mei Balasingamchow
19 July 2021
I light a candle for the victim. It’s not fair, what happened to you. Rest in peace—and if you don’t, we understand why.
I light a candle for the family of the victim, who not only lost a loved one, but also did not know before today that they could lose a loved one in Singapore in this way, who are alone with that particular grief and anger, and who need to be held close, and compassionately, by those who truly love them, for as long as it takes, for all the years it will take to be with this loss.
I light a candle for the person who did it, because he is human too, he did not come from outside this world, he lived among us in the society that we make together, and so I take a moment, difficult as it is, to extend compassion and the hope that in addition to taking responsibility for what he has done, he will get the help he needs, and that others in a similar position will also get the help they need to make a different path forward.
I light a candle for the family of the person who did it, who will face a lifetime of questions, some from their hearts, some from the rest of the world, many of them impossible to answer with any moral satisfaction, about why he did it, and they may live with the disquiet of not knowing if they could have prevented this in some small way, and even if they don’t, they deserve to be viewed as their own persons, not made the butt of sneers and violence and abuse, there has been too much violence today.
I light a candle for the students at the school where it happened, who knew or didn’t know the people involved, who will wonder if they could have been it, the victim or the perpetrator, who will wonder the same about the friends and acquaintances and strangers around them, who will not have the words to say what they feel, so maybe instead they make a joke about axe murderers or ghosts in the toilet, and for whom going to a public toilet—a toilet, of all places! we all need them at one time or another—will not feel the same again.
I light a candle for the teachers and staff at the school where it happened, those who knew the students involved and those who didn’t but knew students like them, knew generations of students with all their problems and quirks and hopes and fears and joys and silly behaviour and annoying habits and sulky moods and surprising moments, and oh god how could one of them, one of our students do this, could I have stopped it, should I have, if it were me, if it happens again, how do we protect our students, how do we help them make sense of this thing that has never happened in Singapore, that we hope dear god will never happen again but if it does, if a threat appears, what do we do, and how do we reassure our students, and ourselves, that we are doing the right thing when we step into the classroom every day?
I light a candle for students at this school and all schools in Singapore, those struggling with mental health issues, whether they know it or not, and those who aren’t struggling or at least think they aren’t, all of whom thought of school as something you had to do, sometimes it was fun, sometimes it wasn’t, a lot of the time it was stressful, but at least no one would try to kill you, right, except now someone has, will I be harmed, will I harm myself, harm others, are we all just violent deep down inside, should I be afraid, what do I do with my feelings, how should I live, who do I trust, how do I go to school again?
I light a candle for parents with children who go to school in Singapore, whose everyday fears are now multiplied, and whose instinct might be to keep their children at home or to bay at the authorities for more to be done—ban axes! don’t let students go to the toilet alone! post security guards and cameras everywhere!—all understandable impulses, but truth is, the hardest task has always been how to prepare your child for the world, and that world, even in tidy little Singapore, just got a lot more terrifying and complicated, and how do you have a conversation with your child, so that they aren’t immobilised by fear or deflecting their fears with hurtful jokes and jeers or afraid to tell you what they really feel, how do you help your child navigate a society that is rife with unforgiving snap judgments, that entertains noisy clamour and poorly informed opinions over unsexy wisdom and compassionate consideration, how do you admit your own fears to yourself and to your children and also find it within yourself to show that the only way things get better is if we treat each other with decency and love, even if sometimes, well, we might become the victim of a horrific act?
I light a candle for people like me, who aren’t in school and don’t have children in school, but we all know people who do, we all know children whom we hope will have it better than we did, and for me, at least, this means a life that is more meaningful, purposeful, being more fully themselves, loving themselves and free to love others around them, taking care of themselves, their loved ones and the world, being able to enter public toilets safely anywhere—yes, regardless of gender—and being able to go to school and learn about things beyond their ken in a safe environment where neither their physical nor mental health is at risk, we want this world, don’t we, for them, for us, we are responsible for making this world, look how far we’ve come, imagine how much more we could do with the resources that we have, more actual care for people of all ages instead of more rules and requirements, because we all know the strictest rules in the world can’t stop someone intent on causing harm to themselves or others, some will say if only someone had been there and stopped him, but being there is something we can all do right now for someone in our lives, child or adult, that is where we begin today.
I light a candle for Singapore, where so much of what is said in public lacks the vocabulary and humility to address this in a thoughtful, considered way, and we could all use a moment to light a candle and ask the people affected by this: What do you need right now, how can I help, and what can we do together?
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