The mother of a 15-year-old student whose body was found at sea has said she believed her daughter committed suicide and has asked the public to stop harassing her family or speculating on the cause of death.

Chan Yin-lam – said to be a competitive swimmer and a regular participant in the ongoing protests – was last seen on September 19. Her body was found naked in the waters near Yau Tong three days later.

Hong Kong Design Institute Chan Yin-lam Ms Ho
Ms Ho. Photo: Screenshot.

Police have classified the case as a suicide and not suspicious, but reports carried by the pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily questioned the conclusion owing to the circumstances of the body’s discovery. Students at the Hong Kong Design Institute – where Chan studied – have staged protests after only partial security camera footage of the student walking around campus was released.

Chan’s mother, surnamed Ho, appeared with her face blurred in an interview with TVB news channel broadcast on Thursday night. But the interview itself was received with scepticism.

During the interview, Ho showed her daughter’s birth certificate to prove her identity: “I want to clarify this, she committed suicide instead of being killed,” she said.

Ho said her daughter had helped to hand out promotional leaflets for the protests in June, but Chan told her in July that the movement’s nature had changed and she was reluctant to continue.

There have been claims that Chan appeared at a protest on August 11 and was affected by tear gas. But Ho said that her daughter was buying a cake in Tsim Sha Tsui for her colleague, not participating in a protest.

Hong Kong Design Institute Chan Yin-lam
A woman believed to be Chan Yin-lam in security camera footage at the Hong Kong Design Institute on September 19. Photo: Screenshot.

Ho said she has followed up with the police over the case and has seen all of the security camera footage, adding that Chan looked unusual in the clips.

She said her daughter had told her at least twice that she was hearing voices in August, and she suspected her daughter suffered from psychosis.

“I spoke to a doctor but the doctor said she was just rebellious and just suffering from emotional problems,” she said.

Ho said her daughter was held in a centre for girls in August for kicking a police officer after refusing to pay her taxi fare following a visit to see her boyfriend at Tong Fuk Correctional Institution.

Ho said she had brief suspicions about her daughter’s death and understood the public’s concern.

But the mother said she has had her personal information leaked online and was being harassed by calls in the middle of the night: “I am afraid to go out. I have already lost my daughter, please do not be so cruel to me,” she added.

Ms Ho Chan Yin-lam
Ms Ho and Chan Yin-lam. Photo: Screenshot.

She urged the public not to speculate further about the cause of Chan’s death.

“I want my daughter to rest in peace. She used to hate being bothered and annoyed. You are making a scene every day. It’s very disturbing. I believe she will find it annoying in heaven as well,” Ho said.

Questions raised

The interview was conducted by news director Wong Suk-ming – the second-highest-ranking employee in the news department – who rarely conducts frontline interviews.

Wong Suk-ming Ms Ho
Wong Suk-ming interviewing Ms Ho. Photo: Screenshot.

Apple Daily, which first reported the case, reached out to several close friends of Chan, who all disagreed with Ho’s claim that her daughter had distanced herself from the protests.

A friend said Chan bought protest t-shirts on August 10, whilst another said Chan was an emotional person but did not have suicidal thoughts, adding that Ho should reveal Chan’s medical records.

According to news footage captured by Apple Daily, Chan was seen entering a train at Jordan MTR station on August 11, holding two bags of groceries and accompanied by protesters.

Chan Yin-lam
Chan Yin-lam entering an MTR train on August 11 and told protesters to “wait for her.”

The Vocational Training Council, which runs the Hong Kong Design Institute where Chan studied, issued a statement on Thursday urging the coroner to conduct an inquest into Chan’s death to “clear up the facts” as soon as possible.

The Council said it was willing to release all security camera footage providing there be no possibility of legal liability.

If you are experiencing negative feelings, please call: The Samaritans 2896 0000 (24-hour, multilingual), Suicide Prevention Centre 2382 0000 or the Social Welfare Department 2343 2255. The Hong Kong Society of Counselling and Psychology provides a WhatsApp hotline in English and Chinese: 6218 1084. See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.