No auto locks for NUS dorm rooms after tragedy

South Korean national Jung Haelin, 18, fell from a seventh-storey ledge at Sheares Hall.
South Korean national Jung Haelin, 18, fell from a seventh-storey ledge at Sheares Hall.

This follows death of student who fell off ledge while trying to get back into locked out room

Residential hall room doors at the National University of Singapore (NUS) will no longer be automatically locked when they are closed.

This follows the death of South Korean national Jung Haelin, 18, who fell from a seventh-storey laundry ledge at Sheares Hall, one of six residential halls in NUS.

Haelin, who was a first-year business student, had been trying to return to her room through a window after mistakenly locking herself out of it earlier.

On Wednesday, State Coroner Kamala Ponnampalam said: "This court notes that following this unfortunate incident, NUS set up a committee to review and look into the matter of preventing such unfortunate incidents from recurring."

The university has also made hall residents aware of what they can do if they find themselves locked out, especially on weekends or after office hours. "They can call a resident fellow or the hall manager, or, if they are not in possession of a phone, they may proceed to the resident fellow's flat which is situated on the first floor of every block.

"The students do not need an access pass for the first floor. At any one time, at least one of the five resident fellows, or the hall master, will be on duty and the resident may approach any of them for assistance," said the state coroner.

Prior to the tragedy, room doors at Sheares Hall were automatically locked when they were closed.

The state coroner said that since February this year, residents have to lock the doors themselves when leaving their rooms.

Closed-circuit television camera footage taken at Block C Sheares Hall showed Haelin coming out of her room at 11.15am on Oct 28 last year to dispose of trash.

After failing to open the door to her room, she was seen pacing up and down the corridor, and knocking on the doors of the other rooms without getting any response.

The teenager was then seen entering a pantry adjacent to her room four minutes later.

The state coroner said that according to hall residents, some students would seek their seniors' help when they locked themselves out. A senior would then leap over a laundry ledge from a neighbouring unit to gain entry into the locked room through the window.

In finding Haelin's death a tragic misadventure, State Coroner Kamala said: "Regrettably, it would appear that Ms Jung, after finding herself locked out... decided to follow the example of her seniors to gain access to her room. She entered the pantry... and likely had attempted to leap across to her room from the laundry ledge outside the pantry window when she missed her footing and fell to the ground."

The distance between the laundry ledge outside the pantry window and the one outside Haelin's room was about 1.6m.Two NUS students later found her lying on the ground. They then alerted the Singapore Civil Defence Force and the Sheares Hall manager.

Haelin was taken to the National University Hospital but died of multiple injuries at 1.20pm that day.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 04, 2018, with the headline 'No auto locks for NUS dorm rooms after tragedy'. Print Edition | Subscribe