Some of you have probably already heard about Pongsathorn Wattanabenjasopha, the 12 year old school boy that committed suicide last week by jumping from the 6th floor of our school building. It was front page news last Friday in all the Thai newspapers and on television as well. All of them had a close-up of the last SMS message he had sent on his mobile phone. He had sent it to his friends late the night before. He basically said that the next day would be his last. His father had apparently scolded him for playing video games and forbid him from playing again.
All of the newspapers picked up on this and basically said that this was why he had jumped. We will never know for sure. I really feel sorry for his father as some newspapers criticized him for being too harsh with his punishment as if he was solely responsible. It wasn’t that long ago that they were blaming parents that allowed their children for playing video games too much. They wanted the gaming shops to be closed down or put out of bounds for young students.
Pongsathorn, or Arm to his friends, was just a normal kid loved by many including a number of the teachers. He was a good student that was in “hong king” last year – the class for gifted students. What happened was a real shock to everyone. On Thursday morning he came to school as normal. He walked up to his classroom on the 5th floor and put his bag on his desk. He then climbed the stairs to the computer center on the 6th floor. It was before school and the area was completley deserted. The time was 7.15 a.m. He climbed over the wall which is about three or four feet high. On the other side there is a kind of wide balcony where there are a number of potted plants. He climbed around these to the edge and then jumped to the playground below.
I arrived at the school about twenty minutes later. At the front gate there were some teachers standing in complete shock. One had tears in her eyes. I didn’t know what was going on at the time. As I walked across the playground I could see the students huddled in groups talking in hushed tones. One of the teachers then came up to me and said that one of the students had fallen from the 6th floor. I was puzzled as there was no body nor any blood on the playground. I later found out that he had basically fallen feet first. Luckily he hadn’t hit any of the students as he fell right in front of one of the entrances to the school building. There would have been several hundred students in the playground at that time and most would be on their way up to their classroom. Some would have been as young as four.
As he was still alive, the teachers quickly summoned a samlor, which is the Thai version of a rickshaw, that had just dropped off some students. He was carried onto this and rushed off to the hospital around the corner. Someone who was on the road outside later told me that they saw him go by on the samlor with a teacher. As there was no blood she just thought that he was feeling ill or something. It didn’t look serious. At the hospital he went straight into surgery and then ICU. He had badly broken both legs and his ribs had punctured his lungs. He died later that afternoon. Understandably, everyone at school was in complete shock.
On Friday, the Ministry of Health arranged for some local hospital workers to come to the school to counsel the students. Some had difficulty in sleeping the night before. For the following three days a number of the teachers went to the local temple to take part in chanting. Early this morning, thirteen of Pongsathorn’s friends ordained as novice monks for the cremation ceremony. They did this to make merit for him. It is a big commitment for them as they have to shave off all their hair and eyebrows. It is common for boys to become novices for a few days when a grandparent dies. It is not normal for so many to ordain like this.
The cremation ceremony took place late this afternoon. Many of the older students and teachers from the school attended this ceremony. There was traditional Thai dancing and Thai music performed by our students. Then after the final chanting and the presentation of robes to the monks, we all went up to the crematorium to place a “sandalwood” flower under the coffin. This is symbolic. As everyone left we were given a kind of souvenir which was a Buddhist amulet. Most people then left and only close family remained for the actual cremation. The students that ordained as novice monks today will be back at school tomorrow.
Four days have now passed but we are still in shock. When I arrived at school I didn’t enter my building at the usual entrance. I didn’t want to look up too. I went in a side entrance. I then took the lift up to the six floor and walked past the spot where he had jumped. I sometimes wander what would have happened if I had arrived that day just twenty minutes earlier than normal. For some reason I had woken up one hour earlier than I normally did that day. Could I have been there to stop him? But then, if he had already made up his mind to kill himself, he probably would have tried again. It is so tragic to see them take their life at such an early age. All life is precious but more so for someone who hasn’t had a chance to live his life. May he rest in peace.