One family in Singapore is in anguish after the head of their household was discovered to have very likely passed away alone at a basement staircase in SingPost Centre in Paya Lebar.
The circumstances surrounding the elderly man's passing are now under investigation by the authorities, but the family are confronted with more questions than answers in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, which has been reported on in greater detail by mainstream Chinese media.
Background of incident
Soh Eng Thong, 78, went missing for a total of five days.
He left his home at Block 10 Haig Road on Friday night, Aug. 27, and had told his family he was going to a wake.
Discovery of body
On Tuesday afternoon, Aug. 31, the police said they found the elderly man's body in a stairwell of a basement car park in SingPost Centre.
The police said they were alerted to a body in the building at about 3:15pm.
Soh was found lying motionless.
He was pronounced dead at the scene by a paramedic.
No foul play detected
Shin Min Daily News reported that the police went to the family home at Haig Road to break the bad news.
Soh's family revealed that the elderly man's personal items, such as his wallet, NRIC and ATM card, were on him when he was discovered.
Police investigations are ongoing.
Preliminary investigations do not suggest foul play.
Following the discovery and identification of the body, a SingPost spokesperson expressed condolences to Soh's family and said that it is assisting with police investigations.
Elderly man independent, went out by himself
Joyce Koo, 32, told The Straits Times that her father-in-law, a retired taxi driver, was independent and travelled out on his own.
The elderly man did not have dementia, she said.
One call got through out of many attempts
When Soh did not return home on Friday night, the family called him repeatedly.
He finally answered the call at about 9am on Saturday morning.
During that call, he told his daughter, who wanted only to be known as Ms Soh, that his legs were tired.
He was heard saying over the phone, "bo khui", which is Hokkien for "not open".
The elderly man also mentioned that he needed a lift from SingPost Centre.
Nowhere to be found
But the elderly man could not be found at SingPost Centre and his family could not reach him on his phone.
This sparked off a search that was to last the next few days.
The family immediately went around the mall to check every floor and the toilet cubicles, in case the elderly man had fallen inside.
Elderly man could have wanted to use the toilet
Chinese media reported that Soh would go to the toilet discreetly due to his prostatitis medical condition.
This was why the family focused on looking for the elderly man in all the toilet cubicles in the mall.
The security staff said they did not see the slightly built man when approached for help by the family, ST reported.
The police were alerted on Saturday afternoon at 3pm.
Koo and her husband, who is Soh's eldest son, then went to multiple locations to look for the missing elderly man.
Koo posted on Facebook about seeking information regarding a missing person and her post was shared more than 10,000 times.
Various members of the public also stepped up to volunteer to look for the elderly man.
Some sent tip-offs about seeing the man in various parts of Singapore.
Told family he was going to wake
According to Chinese media reports, Soh told his family he was going to a wake before he left the house on Friday.
However, his family has since learnt that the wake of a relative that Soh had wanted to attend had already concluded by Thursday, on Aug. 26.
Lianhe Wanbao reported that the elderly man's daughter had even tried to dissuade her father from going to the wake in the first place, as she was worried he would be tired, but he was insistent on making an appearance.
Family panicked after Soh spent night outside
It was also reported that the family discovered on Saturday morning that Soh did not return after "spending the night outside".
Worried, they called him immediately, but he reportedly sounded normal, as if nothing was amiss when they got through.
The family told Soh to come home quickly.
Wanbao reported that it was during this call that Soh sounded like he wanted to meet his daughter at SingPost Centre's taxi stand.
When Soh was still not home at around 10am on Saturday, that was when the family decided to go to the taxi stand to look for him, but to no avail.
No more communication at all
The Chinese media reported that a family member then managed to call Soh, and the line was connected for 1 second this time before it was cut off.
From then on, calls went unconnected.
ST reported that Soh's phone was turned off.
Location of the staircase
Shin Min reported that the police were seen entering and exiting the SingPost Centre staircase on Wednesday morning, Sep. 1 as part of their investigations.
The Chinese newspaper also reported that the entrance of the staircase was locked, based on their observations.
This would mean that someone outside SingPost Centre would not be able to enter the staircase, but the staircase can be accessed from within SingPost Centre.
The staircase is near the loading bay.
As it is at a more remote location, members of the public will typically not use that staircase.
Based on these observations, Shin Min deduced that it was likely that a staff working at SingPost Centre had discovered Soh's body.
Staircase is near taxi stand
Wanbao reported that Soh's body was found three days after his last phone call with his family.
The location of the body was at the basement three staircase, which is near SingPost's taxi stand.
But by the time the body was discovered, decomposition had set in.
Wanbao reported that there had been a scent emanating from the location, which had apparently become stronger in the afternoon of Aug. 31.
Family come up with different scenarios
Soh's daughter, who wanted to be known only as Ms Soh, told Wanbao on Sep. 1 that she suspects that her father was already trapped at the staircase during their slightly longer phone call, and he could have been waiting for his family to come and pick him up.
She also said she cannot help thinking about the phone call and conversation, and will keep replaying the circumstances of her father's demise.
She said: "My father told me in Hokkien that the door could not open. I thought that the shop that my father wanted to go to was not open yet. And I even told him to hurry home."
"Afterwards, my father wanted me to go to the SingPost Centre taxi stand to meet him. I thought my father requested for me to pick him up because his legs were weak. I rushed over, but I could not find him."
Because of her father's prostate problems, Ms Soh went to search for her father at the toilets instead of at the staircase.
She has her theories as to how her father entered the staircase, and how long he was in there.
She said: "We searched the shopping malls in the vicinity repeatedly, including all the cubicles in SingPost Centre's toilets. But I blame myself for not persisting to search a few more rounds. I blame myself more for not understanding what my father was saying, and whether I understood him correctly."
"What if he was at the staircase then? On the other hand, if my father was at the staircase, I don't understand why no one in the building found my father?"
How long was the elderly man at the staircase?
The Chinese media framed the case as a mystery.
This was after they spoke to the family, who have been going over the different scenarios that led to the elderly man eventually ending up at the staircase.
One version of how things could have played out involved Soh making his way home on the morning of Aug. 28, after spending the night out, when he felt the urge to use the toilet.
Driven by his urgent need, the elderly man might have tried to enter SingPost Centre, but the mall might not have been opened at that time.
As a result, Soh might have been complaining about the situation over the phone when he said the door was not open after he ventured down the staircase.
According to Wanbao's observations, the basement three staircase area where Soh was found can only be accessed from the basement one to basement three car park.
The only way to exit the staircase is through the door at the first floor, where the door has to be pushed open to lead to the taxi stand.
Family was optimistic Soh would be found
Three hours before Soh's body was discovered, Koo, who is the daughter-in-law and wife of Soh's eldest son, posted an update on Facebook saying that she believed Soh would return home safely eventually.
Soh's daughter, Ms Soh, said her mother had passed away when she was eight.
As a taxi driver and the sole breadwinner, Soh raised three children on his own.
Despite the occasional squabbles, the family are a cohesive unit and have strong and deep bonds.
Learning about Soh's departure has caused the family pain and sadness, Wanbao reported.
Searched multiple venues
After Soh disappeared on Aug. 28, Soh's daughter, eldest son, daughter-in-law and youngest son, went to many places in search of the elderly man.
Koo also posted multiple updates on Facebook requesting for help.
The family went as far as Toa Payoh to look for Soh based on the public's tip-offs.
Soh's eldest son said notices were put up in the Paya Lebar vicinity and four to five tip-offs came from the effort.
However, they did not lead to the elderly man.
Tried all methods to locate elderly man
The family also went through Soh's EZ-link card records, as well as his past bank transactions, but found that neither were used recently.
They also tried using a GPS tracker, but there were no clues as to his whereabouts.
They family also went to a wake that was happening in the vicinity, only to learn that Soh did not attend that wake.
In response to a comment on Facebook, Koo said she had asked the authorities to locate Soh via TraceTogether, but was told it would not be feasible as it could not track a person's location.
Koo has since posted an update on Facebook thanking the public for their help and requested for privacy during this difficult time.
Prepared food at wake
Worried that Soh was hungry before he passed on, Soh's daughter, Ms Soh, prepared durian, his favourite fruit, which was brought to the wake and placed on the table with offerings.
The family, who are Taoist, said they will go to the site where Soh's body was discovered to perform some rites.
"I am afraid that my father was in a state of hunger before he passed. Once the wake has been set up, we will fill the offering table with his favourite fruit – durian."
The wake will be held at Block 11 Haig Road until Sep. 4.
Follow and listen to our podcast here
Top photo via Soh family, Shin Min Daily News & CapitaLand