Hundreds stream into school to offer condolences

SHE was a picture of calm, handling various administrative matters and accompanying visitors like President Tony Tan Keng Yam around the school yesterday.

But the distressing ordeal over the past weekend has taken "an enormous emotional toll" on Tanjong Katong Primary School (TKPS) principal Caroline Wu, according to an Instagram post by her son Ethan.

Six pupils and one teacher from her school died while on an annual expedition to Mount Kinabalu when a 6.0-magnitude quake struck Sabah last Friday. A pupil and teacher are unaccounted for.

"I know how much it hurts her that her students, her kids, are gone," Ethan said in the post, noting that his mother came home in tears one night. He said she had been staying strong throughout "because she had to".

Yesterday, Mrs Wu spoke to current and former pupils, and parents who visited the tribute site in the school. Hundreds streamed in between 8am and 9pm yesterday to mourn those who had lost their lives.

Some, weeping, placed flowers at the entrance to the school, while others wrote on cards that they stuck to condolence boards.

Former pupil Krtyaka Khatwani, 16, who completed a similar learning trip to Mount Kinabalu in 2011, said the school was like her second home. "We are a family. We've always been there for each other. It is only right for us to return and offer our support."

Lab assistant Azizah Abdul Aziz, 48, whose 10-year-old daughter attends TKPS, had made three trips to the school since the tribute site opened on Sunday morning.

"I couldn't sleep for the past few nights," she said. "These children were so young but now they are gone."

Also present were members of the public who had no connection with the school but came out of sympathy. Among them was IT manager David Soh, 38, who dropped in on his way to work.

He said: "The parents of those who lost their lives need not be alone in their suffering as their fellow Singaporeans are behind them."

As of 7pm yesterday, more than 15 boards had been filled with notes. One card read, "Words cannot describe our loss", while another said, "Stay strong, we are behind you".

There was also a display of nine teddy bears - one for each of those who had lost their lives or are missing - with the message, "You are remembered."

Among government leaders who visited the school were Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Education Minister Heng Swee Keat, and Culture, Community and Youth Minister Lawrence Wong, as well as more than 50 national athletes from the ongoing SEA Games.

Some pupils who had gone on the trip up Mount Kinabalu were there, with cuts and bruises. One was on crutches with a torn ankle tendon and another had a fractured arm in a sling.

Primary 6 pupil Tristan Wing, 12, who had bruises on his back, said many of those who died had been his friends. He said he was relieved to be home and was recovering.

The Ministry of Education has also dispatched a team of counsellors to the school to support families and staff through this difficult time.

"The pupils may not be able to cope with news of the tragedy," said Mr Sean Ng, a lead school counsellor at the ministry.

"We would help them to articulate their thoughts and feelings, so they do not keep these to themselves."

The condolence site will be open today from 8am to 7pm.

This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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