Nov 17, 2010
'He was a different person when in a group'
A former teacher of one of the youths who is believed to have been involved in the Downtown East attacks said that, from what he knew of the teen, he saw trouble coming. Liew Hanqing tracked the teacher down for an insight into the young man, who is referred to as John here. This is what he said:
'I FIRST met John in 2007, when he was in Secondary 3. I was his physics teacher.
The signs were always there that this boy was trouble. He was a student who had no qualms about challenging his teachers. Many teachers were even afraid of him.
Once, I confronted a student who had been in a staring incident in the school canteen. John came between us and told me I had 'no right' to question his friend. I told him I'd call the police if he laid a finger on me, but he didn't flinch.
He knew the school principal would not let the police get involved, and he got more and more daring. Once, he was caught with a jackknife (a pocket knife whose blade can fold inwards) in his school bag during a spot check. He was a known gang member who had been involved in loan-sharking, and for that, he served a stint in a boys' home.
Even after his release, he was recalcitrant. Within months, he was involved in a knife attack on a schoolmate's father, which left the older man seriously hurt. He was sent to the Reformative Training Centre, and later, to jail.
On a personal level, however, John was respectful to his teachers. But he became a totally different person in front of a large group; he would openly challenge authority, and was seen by many boys as their leader.
The classroom was his playground. He once flung a chair at a teacher he was angry with. The school gave him many chances to make good - he was seldom punished - but he never did.
Even his mother could not control him. When I spoke with her, she told me matter-of-factly that this was the way her son had always been, and that there was nothing she could do about it.
I never met his father, but I heard he was a former gangster.
If you ask me, the school could have been stricter with him, and given him a clear message that it would not tolerate his behaviour. But few teachers had any control over him.
Gang activity was then rampant in the school. The then-operations manager of the school, an ex-police officer, could often tell when fights were going to break out from the students' body language.
At times like these, we carried out impromptu spot checks on students' bags. Many times, we found knives, screwdrivers and hammers. The youngest armed student caught was just 13.
In June this year, I called John after he was released from jail to ask how he was doing. He said he was well and that he had become a Christian. I didn't think he would get into trouble again so soon.
I believe he's the sort who would be prepared to die for his gang friends. People like him feel that society has let them down in many ways. To them, the only people who will never let them down are their fellow gang members.'
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