Families refuse to accept drowning verdict

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 February, 2010, 12:00am

No signs of foul play were apparent in the deaths of five children who drowned last week in Tiantai county, Zhejiang province, police said yesterday. But the families of the children still have doubts about the outcome of the investigation, as the village continued to mourn the loss.

'We found water in their lungs and stomachs ... There is much evidence to show the children slipped while struggling to help one another out of the pond, such as some footprints and handprints on one edge of the pond,' Wang Xiejiao, the county's Public Security Bureau and political commissar, said.

There were no signs of outside interference with the children's bodies, he said in response to some publicly expressed views - including those of the families - that they had been abducted by child traffickers, poisoned or assaulted.

Wang made the statement at a news conference at which authorities revealed the results of the autopsies and their investigation. He said the children died between 2pm and 3pm on February 18. A watch found in the pocket of one of the girls during autopsy had stopped at 2.37.

The bodies of the two boys and three girls, aged seven to 13, were recovered on Monday from the pond, about 500 metres from their home, four days after they said goodbye to their grandmother and disappeared.

They were the children of two brothers from Xialuwang village. Four were siblings living in Gansu province, where their parents work. They had returned home to celebrate the Lunar New Year. The fifth was their cousin.

Grief-stricken family members said yesterday they could not accept the authorities' conclusion because of several doubts the police could not answer.

'The investigation results can only prove the kids died of drowning. But we still can't believe it's a simple accidental drowning. It may be a mystery forever,' Cai Xiuding, cousin of the bereaved fathers, said.

'The police said they died at 2.30pm,' Cai said. 'It means our children all died only half an hour after they left home. The children had told their grandmother they were going to visit a girlfriend who lives in another village that is farther than a 30-minute walk from our village.

'The villagers there told us they did see the kids in their village but they left soon afterwards since the girl they wanted to visit was out of town.

'I don't know who is lying, the villagers or the police.'

The tragedy put Xialuwang village under a dark cloud in the middle of the Lunar New Year holiday. Almost all the residents of the small village, with a population fewer than 500, helped the Cai family look for the children.

'We just feel the same pain as they have,' said Huang Jianming, one of the villagers. 'Like the Cai brothers, we have all worked out of town for years and return home to see the children and old parents during the Lunar New Year.

'Now they have lost their kids, five, in one night. Who could bear this?'

Huang said villagers had been considerate of the families' grief. No one in the village has worn red or set off fireworks to celebrate the new year. Most of all, the pond where the tragedy occurred is off-limits.

'I just want to leave here and never come back again,' Cai Xiutong, the father of four of the children who died, said.

'What has happened these past days is too much for our family.'