S'pore mother mourns 17-year-old son's suicide after his arrest by CNB for selling drugs

CNB is investigating circumstances of teen's arrest and MHA intends to make findings available publicly.

Zhangxin Zheng | October 14, 2021, 03:33 AM

A mother in Singapore has penned a heart wrenching letter about her 17-year-old son who committed suicide by jumping to his death from the family's 12th storey home in Hougang after he was arrested for suspected drug trafficking.

The letter, written by Cecilia Ow, was addressed to Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam.

A copy of it has since been posted online where it has been circulated widely in Singapore.

Ow shared the letter via Facebook and Instagram posts on Oct. 12 and said that "the past month has been living hell for her" after her son committed suicide on Sep. 16, 2021.

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A post shared by Cecilia Ow (@justelliot22)

Ow also uploaded a cover photo on Facebook on the day the letters went up, showing a young boy, believed to be her deceased son, when he was a child.

Questions about the investigation process

In Ow's letter, she described how her son, Justin Lee, was arrested for a drug-related offence on Feb. 3, 2021, and that he was brought to a police station in Bedok to be interrogated.

Ow described the interrogation process as "abrasive" and alleged that an officer at the police station "denied" Lee water to drink.

Lee was subsequently held in custody at Central Narcotics Bureau (CNB) in Cantonment Complex until she was allowed to bail him out the following night.

Ow said Lee was unable to contact her prior to being bailed and released and at no point was he accompanied by any trusted adult.

Subsequent CNB visit

On Jun. 23, Lee reported to CNB at around 12:30pm and he was charged for the drug trafficking offences that day, Ow recalled.

The mother said her son did not know that he would be charged that very day with the closure of investigations, and she could not reach him later that day and was only informed by an investigation officer at 5pm that Lee was being held in custody.

Ow was informed that she could bail Lee out after 8pm.

Ow said in the letter that "the eight hours of waiting and worrying was unwarranted" and claimed that Lee was "prohibited from doing push-ups to warm his body" in a "frigid cell".

Questions about process

She then posed five questions in relation to the investigation process:

"1. Why could not CNB give us an estimate of how long the interrogation would take?

2. Where was Justin's handphone when he was being interrogated?

3. Why was Justin not allowed to contact me or reply to my text messages?

4. Why were Justin's belongings not returned to him upon the closure of investigations?

5. Why was there a need to go through the process of bail all over again?"

Son grappled with depression

Ow also revealed in the letter that Lee was diagnosed with depression in early 2020 and had been attending psychotherapy sessions on a regular basis.

The investigation officers were aware of his mental conditions, Ow added.

In her letter to Shanmugam, Ow said her son then became a "different person" after his encounters with CNB officers, as he started exhibiting behaviour that led to his social withdrawal and physical isolation in his room.

Ow said her son then slept poorly and refused to go out of the house, as he feared he was being watched by the authorities.

She added that she does not deny the fact that Lee had committed an offence, but she believes that the stress from the legal process had "broke him and killed him".

In her letter, Ow made reference to the case of Benjamin Lim, the 14-year-old boy who was found at the foot of his block in 2016 after being questioned by the police earlier the same day.

Shanmugam called Ow on the day he received letter, promised to investigate matter

The mother's letter also said Shanmugam called her on the same day he received her letter on Oct. 1.

Shanmugam assured her that a thorough review into Lee's arrest and an investigation will be conducted.

CNB said in a statement on Oct. 13, via a Facebook post, that investigations are expected to be completed by end October 2021, and the findings will be made available publicly.

In their response to Ow, CNB added that she was provided with the contact details of Shanmugam and Minister of State for Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim.

"She was told that she could contact the ministers directly, at any time, on this matter," CNB said.

CNB added that senior officials have been engaging Ow since Sep. 20 and they last met her on Oct. 8.

Ow was assured that full investigations are ongoing and provided her with the timeframe required for the investigations.

Ow was also informed that the findings will be shared with her.

CNB has offered psychological support to Ow, but she declined the offer, according to The Straits Times.

According to Ow's social media posts, her constituency's Member of Parliament, Workers' Party's Sylvia Lim, who is a lawyer, also visited her in person to offer help and advice.

Ow said of Lim's visit: "Her sincerity touched me deeply."

CNB investigating the circumstances of Lee's arrest

CNB revealed in their Facebook post that Lee was suspected of trafficking a Class A controlled drug online and hence he was arrested.

The arrest took place at Serangoon North Avenue 4 and drugs were recovered from another location in the vicinity of the area.

The evidence showed that the drugs belonged to Lee and they were meant for sale.

CNB also revealed that an exception was made to release Lee after he was served with the charges on June 23 because of his age.

Typically, a person charged with drug-related offences will not be released on bail, until produced in court, CNB explained.

CNB said the police are investigating Lee's death on Sep. 16 and CNB has been investigating the circumstances of his arrest after "some statements have been made publicly" about how Lee was arrested and questioned.

CNB emphasised that the allegations are being fully investigated.


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: 1-767

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 via Cecilia Ow's Facebook