CANADA

Looking for answers

An inquest asks why a teenager killed himself

STEPHANIE NOLEN July 1 1998
CANADA

Looking for answers

An inquest asks why a teenager killed himself

STEPHANIE NOLEN July 1 1998

Looking for answers

An inquest asks why a teenager killed himself

CANADA

Kenneth Au Yeung was scared and shaken, and may have believed he faced criminal charges, when he left St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto and jumped to his death from an overpass last December. As the coroner’s inquest into the 17-year-old’s suicide began last week, that was the testimony from Au Yeung’s peers. The five other students who worked on the school yearbook with Au Yeung told a five-member inquest panel that they were sternly questioned by off-duty Toronto police Const. Chris Downer, called in by school principal John Ryall to find out who was responsible for a prank.

Au Yeung’s former colleagues painted a picture of a frightening meeting with Downer and of rash overreaction by Ryall and other school staff. “I had my head down on the desk,” Derek Fung testified, describing the scene after Downer left.

“I was still shaking from the fear and shock.”

Ryall and teacher Louise Kane, who supervised the yearbook, assembled the boys on the morning of Dec. 10, after it was discovered that a page of the book had been altered to include a reference linking the school’s longtime director, Harry Hodson, with the Maple Leaf Gardens sexual abuse scandal.

No one confessed, so Ryall brought the boys together again the next morning and called Downer in to talk to them. (Au Yeung’s death, and the subsequent efforts by St. Michael’s administrators to downplay what had happened at the school, were first reported by Maclean’s in February.)

Last week, Au Yeung’s classmates described him as “worried” and “peeved” about getting in trouble over the yearbook. He was already disappointed at not being chosen to go on tour with the school’s renowned choir, and frustrated with the slowed pace of schoolwork for students

left behind. They also said he disliked Hodson—but Juancho Gotera, 18, the other student who, along with Au Yeung, altered the yearbook, said they had been fooling around and never meant for the changed text to be published. “It was just our way of having fun,” he said. “We didn’t intend for it to go in the yearbook.”

Kenneth’s father, Ben Au Yeung, who is representing his family, questioned the boys closely about their meeting with Downer. “Did you feel free to go whenever you wanted?” he asked yearbook editor Andrew Chung, 19. “My feeling was I was detained,” the student replied. “Did Const. Downer tell you you could call your parents?” “No,” Chung replied. Others testified that when Kenneth raised his hand and asked if he was allowed to call his parents, Downer replied that the meeting was informal, but that if he questioned them individually they could have a lawyer or their parents present.

Au Yeung also asked § the boys if they knew 0 that Downer could only 1 show his badge if he was § on official police busiS ness, and not off-duty as I he was at the school. He £ also asked whether they

were read their rights. They said no. He asked Rupert Lam, another of the students, if Downer left the boys with a “cloud of uncertainty” about whether charges would be laid. ‘Yes,” he replied.

Au Yeung exchanged heated words with Harry Black, the lawyer representing Downer at the inquest. Black’s aggressive questions stood in sharp contrast to Au Yeung’s soft-voiced efforts to show his son as a generous and good-hearted student. With Ryall, Kane and Downer expected to testily this week, emotions are likely to continue to run high.

STEPHANIE NOLEN