Chengdu police release more video, details in on-campus death of 16-year-old high schooler

Society & Culture

After police released further information about the apparent suicide of a high-school student, online opinion turned from criticism of the authorities to questioning of the student’s family’s motives in publicizing the case.

chengdu suicide

As calls for transparency and accountability continue to grow louder in the suspected suicide of a 16-year-old student in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, who was found dead on campus last week, local police have released more details on their investigation into the case. The police say the evidence shows that the teenager harmed himself before taking his own life, and that there were no incidents of school negligence or misconduct in the aftermath of the boy’s death.

The deceased teenager, surnamed Lin, killed himself on Sunday evening by leaping off a staff building at Chengdu No. 49 High School due to “personal issues,” according to a statement released by local authorities on May 11. But the official account of the incident was challenged by Lin’s family members — especially his mother, who took to social media to express her grief and raised a number of questions about how Lin’s death was investigated, including whether the school and law enforcement tampered with surveillance footage of the exact moment Lin supposedly made the leap.

Her demands for clarity and transparency immediately touched a nerve — Weibo exploded with multiple hashtags showing support for Lin’s family, and dozens of protesters gathered outside the school on Tuesday, chanting “Truth! Truth” while holding white flowers. 

To put to bed all of the skepticism and suspicion surrounding Lin’s death, Chengdu police released more footage on Thursday showing the final moments leading to his jump. In a compilation of short clips obtained and made public by Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, Lin can be seen wandering around the campus with a deflated look on his face and cutting his wrist with a paper knife in the basement of a school building. Although there was no surveillance footage of Lin’s death — the location of his suicide had no security cameras, one camera from another building captured his silhouette as he jumped.

An article (in Chinese) published by Xinhua on Thursday also attempted to answer lingering questions about Lin’s death. In an interview with the newspaper, Rèn Mǐpíng 任米平, head of the school’s safety department, said that it took them several hours to inform Lin’s parents because his teacher had trouble identifying him, due to severe injuries on his head. In explaining why he didn’t tell Lin’s parents that the teenager had already died when he called them, Ren said that he was “being considerate of their feelings.”

Police officers told Xinhua that they had only shown Lin’s family parts of the full surveillance video because the other parts were labeled as key evidence and under review by investigators. Xinhua also reported that although Lin showed no signs of depression or struggles with mental health in a recent health screening conducted by the school, text messages obtained by police showed Lin sharing suicidal thoughts with friends and making self-disparaging comments about himself.

Lin’s family appeared to have accepted the reality of his suicide. According to Xinhua, Lin’s parents looked visibly distressed when meeting reporters yesterday, but they didn’t raise further questions about Lin’s death. The last time Lin’s mother posted on Weibo was three days ago, when she shared (in Chinese) a photo of Lin with his classmates, with a caption that read, “I haven’t been home or slept for a few days. This is a photo of my son I found on my phone.”

Online, the criticism and anger about the school’s and the police’s handling of the matter has mostly died down. And the tide of public opinion has sharply turned, with a growing chorus of voices accusing Lin’s family of taking advantage of people’s compassion to stir up anti-government sentiment and cause unrest. 

Some critics even suggested that Lin’s parents were guided and backed by “evil foreign forces,” who staged the protest with a goal to “undermine Chinese law enforcement’s credibility” and “weaken Chinese people’s confidence in their government.” “You owe us an apology! Western media have been constantly looking for ways to make China look bad, and you handed them a perfect opportunity to attack our country,” an internet user commented (in Chinese) on Lin’s mother’s Weibo page. 

Meanwhile, nationalist newspaper Global Times enjoyed the new direction of the online commentary and tied it in to one of the Chinese government’s favorite bugbears, with a story titled “Public opinion shift over student’s death shows Chinese netizens’ increasing vigilance against ‘color revolution.’”