River Valley Murder : Teen Sentenced To 16-years In Jail For Brutal Murder Of 13-year-old Boy


An 18-year-old boy, whose identity cannot be disclosed as he was a minor at the time of the offense, has been sentenced to 16 years in jail for the brutal murder of a fellow student at River Valley High School.

WARNING : Please be advised that the following article discusses sensitive and potentially triggering topics, including suicide.

The boy who is now 18, pleaded guilty on Friday (Dec 1) to the crime that occurred in July 2021.

The victim, identified as 13-year-old Ethan Hun Zhe Kai, was found with multiple wounds in a toilet at the school and was pronounced dead at the scene On Jul 19, 2021. The offender, then a 16-year-old Secondary 4 student, admitted to slashing Ethan’s head, neck, and body with an axe.

During the court hearing, it was revealed that the offender picked Ethan at random as part of a plan that he believed would result in his own death as the police intervened, according to Channel News Asia.

The offender, who suffered from major depressive disorder at the time, had also watched online videos that desensitized him to taking a life.

The jail sentence, imposed by Justice Hoo Sheau Peng, is retroactive to the day of the offender’s arrest. Justice Hoo noted that while the offender was struggling with depression, he still had control over his actions and knew that what he intended to do was both legally and morally wrong.

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng : “No matter how severe, depression cannot be a licence to kill or harm others.”

Justice Hoo Sheau Peng emphasized that even though depression may be severe, it should never be used as an excuse to cause harm or death to others. The judge regarded this case as unprecedented due to its occurrence within a school environment, which is typically considered a safe space for young people, as per the report.

Notably, both the prosecution and the defendant’s legal representatives concurred that the severity of the crime did not merit a sentence of life imprisonment since it was determined that the teenager did not pose a long-term danger to society.

The prosecution described the case as “truly unprecedented,” seeking a jail term of 12 to 16 years, while the defense requested a five-year sentence. The defense lawyer, Mr. Sunil Sudheesan, expressed his intention to appeal the sentence, describing it as “crushing” for the young offender.

During the court proceedings, the offender appeared in a white T-shirt with a shaven head. His family was present and offered support to him during an adjournment. The public gallery was filled with more than 40 people, and Ethan’s parents’ lawyer, Mervyn Cheong, observed the proceedings on their behalf.

In a statement issued through their lawyer, Ethan’s parents expressed their heartbreak over the loss of their son and urged others to remember him for his goodness and kind-hearted nature. The offender’s charge had been reduced from murder to culpable homicide after the Institute of Mental Health assessed that he had clinical depression at the time of the incident.

The court revealed that the offender had a history of depression and had previously sought treatment after a suicide attempt when he was 14. He had also been watching videos of people dying and formed a plan to attack people at his school as a way to end his own life.

On the day of the attack, the offender concealed the weapons used in the killing within a badminton bag and placed them in a male toilet. He cordoned off the toilet to prevent others from entering and attacked Ethan when he entered. After the killing, the offender asked multiple students to call the police before being apprehended by a teacher.


According to the CNA report, the incident occurred on July 19, 2021, between 11.16am and 11.44am at a restroom in River Valley High School, situated in Boon Lay. The teenage perpetrator locked himself in one of the restroom stalls and brought along an axe and knife. He patiently waited for someone to enter.

At approximately 11.28am, the victim entered the restroom, and the teenager approached him from behind, slashing his head, neck, and body. During the attack, the teen unexpectedly apologized to the victim and abandoned his plan to harm other students after noticing the motionless state of the boy.

Subsequently, he called out to multiple groups of students, instructing them to contact the police. A teacher then encountered the teenager and persuaded him to relinquish the axe, to which he complied.

At 11.41am, the accused personally contacted the police, confessing, “I just killed someone with an axe, I don’t know who. Are you going to send someone or not?” Another teacher arrived, moved the axe further away from the teenager, and alerted the authorities upon entering the restroom.

Tragically, the boy was pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force.

Justice Hoo emphasized that while depression can mitigate an offender’s culpability, it cannot justify the act of killing or harming others. The punishment for culpable homicide not amounting to murder is life imprisonment with caning or a jail term of up to 20 years with a fine or caning.

The incident at River Valley High School prompted widespread grief and shock, leading to increased mental health support services at the school. One year after the incident, the school has implemented measures such as additional counselors to help students and staff cope with mental health issues.

“Yet, we want to encourage everyone to remember Ethan fondly instead. Remember him for his goodness, his kind heart, and his peace-loving nature. Remember that he would want us to be happy.” – Parents of Ethan Hun


Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing addressed the incident in parliament on July 27, 2021, providing a chronological account of the event. He noted that immediate psychological support was set up the following day to assist affected staff and students.

The Ministry of Education (MOE) also expressed its commitment to strengthening mental health support networks in schools by deploying over 1,000 teacher-counsellors in the coming years.

On July 16, 2022, MOE released a statement indicating that River Valley High School now has additional counsellors and conducts well-being awareness talks for students. They also mentioned the establishment of a student development hub, which offers convenient access to wellness services, as well as an activity centre that provides spaces for student-led activities. MOE emphasized that these measures have had a positive impact on the students of River Valley High, assuring that they will continue to provide all necessary support to the school.

Image via SMDN

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