Young hero of '08 quake on trial for cheating

Young hero of '08 quake on trial for cheating

Lei Chunian, who became an unlikely hero at age 15 because of the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, stood trial at Chengdu High-Tech Zone Court in Chengdu, capital of Sichuan province, on Monday.

The hero who gained national fame is suspected of cheating more than 460,000 yuan (S$97,000) from 21 people, including his ex-girlfriend.

When the magnitude-8.0 quake struck in May 2008, Lei was playing in the corridor on the second floor of his school, Cifeng Town High School in Pengzhou, Sichuan.

After he fled to the playground, he found seven classmates had not come out of the building. He rushed back in and saw them shivering in a corner. After leading them to safety on the first floor, however, a staircase collapsed in front of him. He had to return to the second floor and leap to a tree near the building. After he slid down the tree, the building collapsed.

"He did not have high scores in exams, so the boy was a very ordinary student in class," said Chen Dong, who taught Lei physics at the school.

But after Lei's story was reported in the media, he was named a heroic teenager by several departments of the central government. He was invited to different parts of the country to talk about his heroic act, and he participated in the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

A reputable senior high school in Chengdu enrolled him without any examination, and his schooling was provided free because he was a national hero.

But after he went to the school in Chengdu, he did not study hard and liked traveling to different parts of the country. He liked staying in four- and five-star hotels during his tours, said his ex-girlfriend, surnamed Hao.

In early 2013, Lei told Hao he could find a job for her in an airline company, but he said he needed 100,000 yuan as a gift for people who could help, prosecutors said. However, Lei simply squandered the money and left Chengdu for Shenzhen in Guangdong province.

Because Lei was famous, many people believed he knew important people who could solve their problems. Two people gave Lei 175,000 yuan after he said he could help their children get into good high schools, but he did nothing for them and never returned the money, prosecutors said.

Lei lost his wallet in Shenzhen in late June and reported it to the police, who detained him after finding he was wanted on suspicion of cheating people out of money.

Lei is not the first hero of the Wenchuan earthquake to be charged.

Chen Yan, a 42-year-old volunteer who became well-known after the quake, was sentenced to three years with a reprieve of three years for fraud late last year.

In 2010, a woman asked Chen to find jobs for her daughter and son-in-law. Chen asked her for 120,000 yuan as gift money for people who could help. He spent all the money but did not find satisfactory jobs for the couple.

Chen gained national fame after the Wenchuan quake for saving 29 students from the rubble of Dongqi High School in Hanwang, Sichuan, together with members of the National Earthquake Disaster Relief Team.

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