Forensic pathologists who performed an autopsy on a 15-year-old girl found dead at sea last year said they could not determine how the teen died, but acknowledged the “distinct possibility” she might have drowned herself, an inquest heard on Tuesday.
The medical findings surfaced on the seventh day of an 11-day inquest into the death of Chan Yin-lam, whose body was found in the waters off Tseung Kwan O on September 22, three days after she was last seen by friends and caught on security cameras. Whether Chan, a self-taught diver, took her own life by jumping into the sea remains unclear.
Government doctor Garrick Li Yuk-wah, one of the two pathologists who carried out the autopsy, testified on Tuesday that the suggestion Chan died of drowning was based on the lack of apparent fatal injuries on the body, as well as signs that indicated she passed away within one day of her disappearance.
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Despite the suggestion, the doctor said it was unlikely for someone who could swim, like Chan, to commit suicide by jumping into the water. Responding to a question from Magistrate Ko Wai-hung, Li said: “According to our observations, it was uncommon.”
At the autopsy performed by Li and his senior, Lai Sai-chak, the body was found to exhibit a moderate level of decomposition, the court was told. Li said that indicated Chan might have died within 24 hours of her last appearance on September 19.
The two doctors found the body relatively intact despite the decay, suggesting Chan had not been subject to violence or sexual assault before her death. They believed the body had remained in the water for a substantial period, given the widespread shedding and bleaching of the skin on the limbs.
While the pathologists singled out drowning as a possible cause of death, they could not carry out further examinations of the decomposed internal organs to support their hypothesis. They concluded in their autopsy report: “The cause of death was given as unascertained due to decomposition.”
The report could only give limited inferences, Li said, because it neither made findings on the circumstances of Chan’s death, nor explained why her body was found naked at sea.
Due to the body’s decomposed state, doctors were also unable to identify any bruises or scratches, or conduct a blood test to determine whether Chan had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol, Li added.
“The autopsy findings match the signs of drowning, but we’re not entirely sure it’s the cause of death,” Li said.
Further forensic examinations conducted after the autopsy found no DNA from another person in the body’s vagina or under its fingernails – supporting the proposition that Chan had not been attacked before her death.
A maternity test was also conducted on July 9, two weeks after a pre-inquest review hearing, to verify the relationship between Chan and her mother, Ho Pui-yee.
Government Chemist Wai Wing-kong, who carried out the test, said the test revealed many similarities in the pair’s DNA, and concluded that Ho was 7,320 times more likely to be Chan’s mother than any other woman. He said the number was “strong evidence” the pair’s relationship was authentic.
Tuesday’s inquest heard further evidence regarding Chan’s whereabouts on the evening of September 19.
Security footage showed that on that evening, Chan returned to her school campus and remained there for over an hour before walking barefoot to Tiu Keng Leng MTR station, going through an adjacent shopping mall and arriving at a nearby housing estate. Cameras lost sight of her at around 7.08pm.
New evidence emerged on Monday, as witness Black Chan Ka-kit testified that he saw Chan inside the railway station at 7.20pm, but was unclear what she did next.
On Tuesday, detective Constable Lee Ho-kit said police were unable to follow up on the new evidence because officers did not look beyond 7pm on September 19 when they reviewed the station’s CCTV footage.
The policeman added that the force could not locate Chan in the security footage seized from a construction site near Lohas Park station, where the teen was said to have gone later that night.
An independent medical expert is expected to testify about the accuracy of the autopsy findings on Wednesday.
This article Cause of death of Hong Kong teen found at sea unclear, but drowning a possibility, experts testify first appeared on South China Morning Post