Singapore mourns young lives lost

Singapore mourns young lives lost
Footballers standing in unison as they observed a minute of silence before Singapore’s match against Cambodia in the Group A match of the 28th Sea Games football competition on 8 June 2015. Flags around the nation flew at half-mast on Singapore’s first Day of National Remembrance, to remember the eight Singaporeans who were killed in the earthquake in Sabah on 5 June 2015. Two Singaporeans are still missing.

Across sporting arenas usually overflowing with noise, a deep silence of grief rang out yesterday. On the faces of athletes and spectators alike, the emotions of triumph and defeat were, for a shared moment, replaced by sorrow.

It was Singapore's first Day of National Remembrance, for the victims of a tragedy that ranks among the nation's most heartbreaking for the loss of so many young lives.

From the banks of the Marina Channel to the stands of Jalan Besar Stadium, a minute of silence was observed before all SEA Games events, to remember the lives lost when a 6.0-magnitude earthquake dislodged boulders on Mount Kinabalu last Friday, killing and injuring climbers.

Flags around the nation flew at half-mast.

Sabah, where the total death toll from the quake has reached 18 including eight Singaporeans, similarly marked a day of grief.

Six of the Singaporean victims - Peony Wee Ying Ping, Rachel Ho Yann Shiuan, Sonia Jhala, Emilie Giovanna Ramu, Matahom Karyl Mitzi Higuit and Ameer Ryyan Mohd Adeed Sanjay - were aged just 12, and at the start of what should have been long lives.

The two adults who died - teacher Terrence Sebastian Loo Jian Liang, 29, and adventure guide Muhammad Daanish Amran, 22 - likely did so protecting their young charges.

Pupil Navdeep Singh Jaryal Raj Kumar, 13, and teacher Mohammad Ghazi Mohamed, 35, are the only two still missing among the group of 37 from Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) who climbed South-east Asia's highest peak on that fateful day.

Yesterday, the school became the locus of national mourning, with hundreds of people - including alumni, politicians and athletes - visiting its canteen to leave notes and mementos of condolence, and messages of hope for the families of those missing.

TKPS principal Caroline Wu mingled with pupils, parents and guests throughout the day, displaying a stoicism that her son Ethan said on Instagram would give way to tears when she returned home at night.

The gears of grief ground on as two of the Muslim victims were interred yesterday morning, and wakes for the others began.

The 28th SEA Games took on a poignant edge, after it emerged that many of the young victims were budding athletes. They had been singled out for the Kinabalu expedition, which was TKPS' prestigious character-building programme for pupil leaders.

Ameer was devoted to football. Last night, for Singapore's match against Cambodia, national coach Aide Iskandar wore a white jersey printed in his honour.

At the wake for Rachel, whose dream was to be a national netball player, Singapore's netball team turned up and gave her parents an autographed medal.

Shock and agony turned to recrimination in some quarters, as critics questioned whether the expedition was too tough for children and whether it should have been approved.

But alumni and parents defended the programme. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared on his Facebook page a post by a TKPS parent about how the trip had helped her son mature.

Later, Mr Lee updated his Facebook page again, borrowing from the Ode of Remembrance: "They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:

"Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

"At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

"We will remember them."

This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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