Police in China's southwestern Sichuan province have carried out an autopsy to finalize its investigation into the mysterious death of a middle school student, ruling out the possibility of homicide or campus violence.
But some observers and residents remain skeptical, questioning the investigation’s credibility after authorities there had once attempted to hush the incident up and put the boy’s family under surveillance.
Liao Yaozhong, a lawyer from Hunan province, called the police autopsy into question.
“The ensuing investigation was done in a closed environment, which is hardly convincing,” Liao told VOA over the phone.
“Now that this has become the focus of public attention, it should have had been investigated in an open way in order to ensure credibility” with the presence of independent forensic pathologists or lawyers of the family’s own choice, he added.
Last week, Liao was in talks with the boy’s father, Zhao Tingxue, via WeChat about legal representation, who, however, told the lawyer that his family was under heavy pressure from local officials. Since then, Liao said he has never heard back from senior Zhao.
On April 1, the body of Zhao’s 14-year-old son, Zhao Xin, was found outside his dormitory at Taifu Middle School in Luzhou with bruises all over his body and broken limbs. Family members suspect that Zhao was beaten to death, but authorities ruled out homicide on the same day.
Detailed investigation report
After days of large protests and a public outcry online, the police released a more detailed report on Friday after an autopsy was performed with the family’s consent.
Authorities maintained that junior Zhao had died from falling off the dormitory building, according to the report posted to the police Weibo account.
Its findings showed the boy climbed out of the window of his room on the fifth floor as one of his slipper prints was found on the stand near the windowsill and another on the overhang of the building’s third floor as well as finger prints on the concrete wall before he landed on the ground
An autopsy further found that the boy suffered serious internal bleeding from the fall, which the police said explains the bruises on his back and broken limbs. But no open wounds were found that would have suggested he had been beaten before his death, the report added.
The police also interviewed more than 150 people, including his teachers, roommates and the dorm supervisor.
The school insisted the dormitory building remains locked every night after 10 pm and there was no sign of break-in the night Zhao died. Also, with thin walls and room doors that can’t be locked, any fighting would have had been easily discovered by others, yet no one in the dorm reported any noise that night.
But Zhao, who had a fever, did dream about being beaten up by fellow students at around 11 pm, when his nightmare caused a brief stir in the dormitory, the report said.
One of Zhao’s roommates told the police that he was next woken up at 1 am by Zhao, who asked for his company to go to the bathroom. But he was too slow to get up and went back to sleep after hearing Zhao had come out of the bathroom.
The dorm supervisor also reiterated that Zhao remained awake in bed at around 2 am when she checked on his fever again.
The police further clarified what it called a series of groundless rumors, which have been circulating online.
In spite of the police’s full account of how the boy died, some of the 66,000 netizens, who have read the report, remain unconvinced.
One Weibo user said the police needed to provide more solid evidence to prove the boy jumped off the building himself, as pictures provided by the police are vague and indirect. Another urged the police to release relevant video clips as there appeared to be surveillance cameras installed on the campus.
Some residents whom VOA spoke to either claimed no knowledge of the report or said that they took the police’s report skeptically.
“I feel it fails to clear many doubts. But anyway, [the boy’s body] has now been cremated,” Mr. Wang told VOA, adding that “I can only say that I half-believe, half-doubt. Many of our neighbors still find it hard to believe.”
Other residents also lamented that justice will never prevail.
“We will be arrested or charged with rumor mongering if we continue to argue that the boy was beaten to death,” a local resident told the New Tang Dynasty TV anonymously.
Authorities appear to have put in place stability-maintenance measures, including heavy censorship of online comments, or a clampdown on what it called rumor mongering.
“It appears that the incident may now be put to rest. But we remain resentful inside. This is the third boy, who had suffered [a similar incident]. Deep down, we know that the boy was beaten to death. But there’s nothing we can do,” she said.
The resident believed that Zhao was bullied in school and that failing to pay protection fees was his cause of death.
The police, nevertheless, provided no clue as to what pushed the boy to commit suicide, as it claimed, although its report did mention testimony by one of Zhao’s classmates, who said the boy expressed deep frustration with his father’s reprimand over earlier misconduct at school.
The boy’s parents have remained unavailable for comment after they were allowed to see their son’s body and engaged in talks with local authorities.
Brian Kopczynski contributed to this report.