"The Chamber of Secrets has been opened": On the River Valley High School Incident
One of my former students texted me: “The Chamber of Secrets has been opened.” This was referring to the recent tragic incident in which a Secondary One boy was allegedly killed by a fellow student. The allusion was to the scene in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, in which the chilling message had been written by a student on the wall outside a bathroom in Hogwarts. (In the novel, the first time the Chamber of Secrets had been opened, a student was also killed in a school toilet.)
At first I wanted to chide my student for his remark, which could be read as trivialising this terrible tragedy. But I realised: how can we expect students to avoid responding to the incident? In the wake of shock and horror, how should our students be guided to process their thoughts and feelings? By blithely ignoring the barrage of messages on social media? Screenshots of group chats have been circulating furiously online, with some apparently showing text messages of eyewitness accounts of the scene, describing a student wielding an axe and washing himself at a water cooler. A video of students running. This is the kind of incident that happens elsewhere. Not in Singapore.
In a nation still in the midst of fighting Covid, our students are reminded day in and day out that the world is fraught with dangers. At this time more than ever, every school needs to be a sanctuary in which students feel safe. Online discussions about the incident have given the impression to some that school killings are not faraway incidents but can happen much closer to home than we think. In the words of the poet Dylan Thomas, “After the first death, there is no other.” How do we even begin to make sense of tragedy, and embark on the difficult but necessary process of healing?
We need to give space to the staff, students, and parents of the school, and offer them every possible form of support. We need to extend compassion to the families of both the victim and the accused, especially by respecting their privacy. And as Minister Chan and other leaders have advised, we need to refrain from speculating on the details of the case while investigations are ongoing.
In the long term, we need to continue to empower peer support leaders so that they can spot any warning signs. We need to continue strengthening our mental health support systems and counselling programmes. Kuik Shiao-yin has shared some very helpful links provided by The Tapestry Project SG — these are lifesaving resources that need to be more widely known.
Most of all, we need to continue reassuring our students: whatever difficulties you may be experiencing, schools will always be safe spaces for you. Our teachers and counsellors will always be ready to help.
So instead of chiding my former student, I decided to quote one of my childhood heroes — Albus Dumbledore: "We must try not to sink beneath our anguish . . . but battle on."
Jiayou River Valley High School — our hearts are with you.