SCDF NSF found dead at Clementi block had indicated feelings of depression, court hears

SCDF NSF found dead at Clementi block had indicated feelings of depression, court hears

State Courts SG
The State Courts in Singapore (File photo: Xabryna Kek)

SINGAPORE: An 18-year-old Singaporean who was found dead at the foot of a block in Clementi last year had indicated on his first night of national service that he often felt depressed, a coroner's inquiry heard on Friday (Feb 22). 

Mr Muhammad Ahad Lone had returned to Singapore from overseas to serve national service with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), the court heard on the first day of the inquiry.

Investigation officer Tan Yeow Chong took the stand and shared investigation findings into the case.

Mr Ahad began his service on Feb 6, 2018, but repeatedly took medical leave, reporting sick at the Civil Defence Academy (CDA) and National University Hospital on 13 occasions in the first seven weeks, according to a police investigation report.

After seeing doctors over several weeks for persisting ailments including an upper respiratory tract infection, gastroenteritis and insomnia, Mr Ahad was asked by a doctor if he suffered stress from any non-medical issues.

He told the doctor in CDA's medical centre on Mar 29, 2018, that he had insomnia and low appetite. He also said he had suicidal thoughts and had intentions to cut his wrist and end his life.

He was immediately taken to the Institute of Mental Health's (IMH's) emergency department by ambulance. A report from IMH said Mr Ahad had come to Singapore alone to complete his national service and had difficulties with the regimental structure of national service.

He felt sad occasionally and had thought of cutting his wrist, but did not act on these thoughts. He had not attempted suicide or any self-harm, the report noted.

His mood symptoms improved whenever he booked out from camp, and he dreamed of entering an Ivy League university to study economics or finance. He was diagnosed with adjustment disorder with depressed mood and given medication for insomnia.

No psychotic symptoms, active suicidal ideation, nor imminent risk of suicide was found, and he was to return to IMH for a follow-up in four to six weeks.

DECEASED WAS UNABLE TO ADAPT TO SINGAPORE'S WEATHER, FELT LONELY

Investigations by the police found that Mr Ahad had filled out a form on his first night of enlistment indicating that he often felt depressed, had tried to harm himself before and was worried about his financial status.

He also said in the form - which all recruits are required to fill - that he was unable to adapt to Singapore's weather and that he felt lonely and homesick.

He was given priority immediately that day to be interviewed by the platoon commander.

According to the platoon commander, Mr Ahad shared in the interview that he had mostly overcome the problems he indicated. He said he did not want to see an SCDF counsellor but preferred instead to speak to the platoon commander.

However, Mr Ahad's medical ailments began the day after he started national service. The string of doctor visits saw him seek treatment for ailments including fever, insomnia, viral infection, gastritis and vomiting.

During a few visits, he asked for medication for insomnia. He told one of the doctors that he had been previously prescribed Xanax in Canada.

Because of his frequent sickness, Mr Ahad did not manage to undergo most of the training curriculum and instead was either on light duty or on medical leave. He was also briefed on the implications of medical leave restriction and told not to take medical leave while outside the camp, but to book in and see a doctor while there instead.

The investigation officer testified that on a few occasions, Mr Ahad did not book into camp and instead was away without official leave. The day before his death, he was confined to the guard room as punishment.

According to the duty officer, Mr Ahad was seen reading and sleeping during the night, and was dismissed from confinement the next morning.

He returned to his apartment in Pine Grove, where he had arranged to meet with the landlady to move out. She said that came as a surprise to her since he had previously mentioned wanting to extend his lease.

DECEASED FOUND BY NEIGHBOUR, NO DRUGS OR ALCOHOL IN HIS BLOOD

A neighbour who was waiting for a taxi at around 1.30pm on Apr 7, 2018, heard a loud sound and saw Mr Ahad lying motionless on the ground.

He called the police, and paramedics pronounced Mr Ahad dead at 1.36pm. He was wearing a grey polo shirt, SCDF trousers and was barefoot.

An autopsy certified the cause of death as multiple injuries consistent with a fall from height, and no alcohol or drugs were found in his blood.

The 15th-floor unit at Pine Grove, which he shared with housemates, was neat and there was no sign of violence or ransacking. According to police investigations, it was likely that he had fallen from the kitchen window of the unit, and it was unlikely that he had stumbled. Instead, it was likely a deliberate act of suicide.

According to the buddy assigned to Mr Ahad at SCDF's Basic Rescue Training Centre, Mr Ahad had said on certain occasions that he had no close friends in Singapore and felt lonely. 

He was also sad because he missed his mother and felt like he was "a burden to the platoon" because he had taken a lot of medical leave and was not feeling well.

Mr Ahad also told his buddy that there was a voice in his head telling him to kill himself.

His buddy said that Mr Ahad had not been bullied, which the platoon commander corroborated. When asked by state counsel Jaime Pang whether there were any signs of bullying according to the investigation report, the testifying officer said there were none.

Mr Ahad's mother said she communicated with her son while she was in Pakistan but did not hear about any problems.

Her son had told her he was happy and wanted to be a firefighter like his elder brother. However, she later heard from him that something was wrong, and "not right" with him. He also said he had been punished and was on guard duty.

Around noon on the day of his death, Mr Ahad called his mother and asked her how she and his brother were.

His mother said that she did not believe her son died by suicide, and instead was a reaction to the medicine prescribed. 

The family is represented by lawyers K Anparasan and Osman Khan from Whitefern LLC, but was unable to be present for the hearing as they are in Pakistan.

In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, SCDF said it had given Mr Ahad medical attention and counselling support, after he told his superiors that he found it difficult adjusting to his new environment. 

"Given this, and his various health issues, SCDF had continually provided him prompt medical attention and counselling support from within SCDF, as well as referral to the Institute of Mental Health for treatment," said an SCDF spokesperson. 

"However, on Apr 7, 2018, REC (Recruit) Ahad was found motionless at the foot of the residential block where he had rented a room, and was pronounced dead," the spokesperson added.

"We were saddened by his death and had provided his family with assistance and support.”

The inquiry was adjourned in the afternoon, and future dates have yet to be fixed.

Where to get help: Samaritans of Singapore operates a 24-hour hotline at 1800 221 4444, or you can email pat@sos.org.sg. You can also find a list of international helplines here. If someone you know is at immediate risk, call 24-hour emergency medical services.

Source: CNA/ll(ly/gs)

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