Foreign student hanged himself in hotel room after being caught for breaching stay-home notice: Coroner

SINGAPORE: An incoming foreign student who was serving stay-home notice in a hotel hanged himself in his…

SINGAPORE: An incoming foreign student who was serving stay-home notice in a hotel hanged himself in his room in a deliberate act of suicide after being caught breaching quarantine, a coroner found on Tuesday (Apr 20).

Sri Lankan national Nishad Manilka De Fonseka, 20, had come to Singapore last year to begin his first year studying at Singapore Management University (SMU).

Days before his school term was due to begin in August 2020, Mr De Fonseka was found hanged inside his room at the Hotel Grand Pacific.

His Internet history showed searches for breaches for stay-home notice and two news articles about the consequences of breaching the notice.

He left notes apologising to his family, calling the world “a cruel place” and saying “sorry if I let you down”. 

Mr De Fonseka had arrived in Singapore on Aug 1, 2020 with a female friend. They were each briefed on the requirements of their stay-home notice which included prohibition from coming into contact with other people.

According to his friend, Mr De Fonseka would leave his hotel room frequently to go to hers, leaving the door ajar with a clothes hanger.

However, Mr De Fonseka was caught when he was locked outside his room and staff checked the closed-circuit television footage. He tried asking hotel staff not to report the matter, but was told it was protocol to do so.

Mr De Fonseka was worried that his parents would be upset and concerned that his studies would be affected, but his friend told him it might not be so serious, as they had been on the same flight to Singapore.

On Aug 11, 2020, the pair went for a COVID-19 swab test. After this, SMU contacted the pair and asked them to submit a statement and explanation for the breach.

BOTH OF THEM GOT WORRIED AFTER UNIVERSITY SOUGHT EXPLANATION

After they replied SMU, they texted each other, with the friend saying she was trying hard not to kill herself, and Mr De Fonseka said “same” and that he was “trying to find s*** to do”.

They discussed their future, and Mr De Fonseka said he did not know if he could take it anymore, to which his friend said she was worried she would be sent back and that she was going to kill herself. 

Past 1.30am, Mr De Fonseka called his friend to tell her that his mother had not answered his call. He said he was afraid that SMU would suspend them, and that he would fall behind and his scholarship would be revoked. He said he could not imagine how to explain it to his parents.

His friend told him to call her if he had an urge to harm himself, and went to bed only after he told her he was really fine. She later woke up and saw multiple text messages from him asking her to call him, but when she tried to call him back, there was no response.

She texted him with no response and called the hotel reception to ask them to check on him. He was found hanging from the ceiling and pronounced dead on Aug 12, 2020.

MEASURES POST-INCIDENT

The court heard that SMU did not have standard operating procedures for such a situation at the time, and that the email they sent to the students for an explanation included the penalties for stay-home notice breaches so they would be aware of them.

SMU had arranged care calls for the two students at their hotel to check on their wellbeing, remind them to take their temperatures and adhere to the stay-home notice.

After the incident, the Ministry of Education (MOE) set up guidelines on how to handle such stay-home notice breaches, the coroner noted.

Guidelines were also given on how to communicate with those who breach stay-home notices, including communicating directly with them and prepare them mentally with a call before sending an email. They should also be informed of the counselling and support available to them.

State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam found that Mr De Fonseka’s death was a deliberate act of suicide, with no foul play suspected. She noted that MOE has since set out clear guidelines for institutes of higher learning on how to handle such situations, and that SMU has also changed its policy for student welfare management.

She gave her condolences to Mr De Fonseka’s family for their loss.

Where to get help:

Samaritans of Singapore Hotline: 1800 221 4444

Institute of Mental Health’s Helpline: 6389 2222

Singapore Association of Mental Health Helpline: 1800 283 7019

You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.