Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing spoke in Parliament this afternoon (July 27), giving an update on the incident that occurred in River Valley High School on July 19 which resulted in the death of a student.
He gave a chronological account of the events, and elaborated on the actions that the Ministry of Education (MOE) took to provide support to affected students, staff, and others.
Timeline of events
In his speech, Chan also shared an account of the facts, although as the matter is before the courts, he said some aspects could not yet be discussed.
On July 19, at about 11:35am (near the end of the lunch break), a group of students encountered a 16-year-old student outside a toilet.
He was holding an axe, and asked the group to call the police. They returned to the classroom and immediately informed their teacher.
The 16-year-old then made the same request to another group of students in the classroom next to the toilet.
This group of students applied the emergency "Run-Hide-Tell" drill by locking the doors from within the classroom and calling their form teachers for help.
A teacher who first arrived at the scene told the student to put down the axe, and he complied. He was then escorted to a meeting room.
Other teachers then called the police and checked the toilet. Upon receiving the call for assistance, the police arrived within 10 minutes and took the 16-year old student into custody.
Police officers and Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) paramedics despatched to the scene found a 13-year-old student lying motionless in the toilet with multiple wounds.
He was pronounced dead.
After the incident
Once the situation was under control, the principal broke the news to the rest of her staff, before speaking with the students.
She shared that a serious incident had happened and asked all students to contact their parents to assure them that they were safe.
Other parents were also informed via Parents Gateway (an MOE portal for communications with parents of students) that a serious incident had happened in school, so they could look out for their children once they were dismissed for the day.
The principal then spoke to the students who were most affected, with other teachers also offering support.
From 3.15pm, students were progressively dismissed, with teachers stationed at various campus gates to give students and parents assurance. By the same evening, parents were informed that "a member of the RV family" had passed away.
The school advised parents to monitor the well-being of their child. Parents who were worried for their child’s well-being were encouraged to contact the form teachers to work out ways to support their children both at home and in school.
Preliminary investigations revealed that the two students had not known each other before the incident, and that the axe was purchased online.
The 16-year-old student was charged in court for murder the next day, on July 20. He has since been in remand for psychiatric assessment.
Chan also shared that for students who assisted with police interviews, parental consent was duly sought, and every student was accompanied by a teacher throughout the entire process.
Support provided, students and teachers who needed time-off were granted leave
Chan also elaborated on the support rendered to the staff and students of RVH following the incident. He said MOE's "immediate priority" was to render full support to the school.
On July 20, a public holiday (Hari Raya Haji), MOE set up a “Caring Actions in Response to an Emergency” (CARE) Post at RVH to provide psychological support to students and staff who needed immediate help.
On the same day, together with his senior colleagues at MOE, Chan met with 380 principals from Primary schools to Junior Colleges. They discussed the situation and shared resources they could tap on to identify students and staff who may display signs of distress, so that they can be encouraged to seek help.
When school resumed on July 21, RV teachers, supported by MOE CARE officers and counsellors, conducted check-in sessions with students to provide them with a safe space to share their thoughts and feelings.
Students who wished to could return home. Students and teachers who needed time-off were granted leave.
Teachers called those who were not in school to check on how they were doing. Master teachers from MOE were deployed to take over some classes.
Community rallied around the school
Chan shared that since the CARE Post was set up, about 540 staff and students have sought support.
A total of 98 MOE CARE officers and school counsellors, trained in psychological first aid and trauma management, have put aside their regular duties to help out at the post.
Chan also spoke of the heartening show of support and acts of kindness within the school community, with students urging their teachers to seek help where needed, students sending each other gifts and notes, and alumni rallying around the school
"All these speak volumes of the compassion and strength of the River Valley High School family," he said.
"No words can describe our shock and grief"
In his speech, Chan also expressed his deepest condolences to the family of deceased for their loss.
"No amount of words can describe our shock and grief...our thoughts are with the staff and students of River Valley High School."
He confirmed that the ministry will continue to provide all possible support to the school community, including the affected families, and thanked those who stepped forward to offer their assistance.
MOE is also closely monitoring the well-being of students and the situation in schools beyond River Valley High (RVH).
Chan also thanked the mainstream media for exercising sensitivity in reporting this incident.
"They did so, out of respect for the families involved and to avoid further traumatising other students and staff," Chan said.
If you or someone you know are in mental distress, here are some hotlines you can call to seek help, advice, or just a listening ear:
SOS 24-hour Hotline: 1800-221-4444
Singapore Association for Mental Health: 1800-283-7019
Institute of Mental Health: 6389-2222 (24 hours)
Tinkle Friend: 1800-274-4788 (for primary school-aged children)
Top image from Ashley Tan and MCI YouTube.