SERDANG: The boisterous students of Class 5 Merah at SJK(C) Kung Man, Serdang Lama, did not pay much attention to the empty desk in the fourth row yesterday.
Before long, however, school headmaster Lim Chai stepped into the classroom to tell the 11 year olds that their friend and classmate, Liau Wan Juin, had died the previous day.
The classroom suddenly fell silent as the pupils gasped in disbelief while they turned to look at the empty seat where Wan Juin used to. They then burst into tears.
The children were overcome by grief as they recalled a caring and friendly girl known to spread cheer around.
“How did she die? When did she die? Why is she dead?” asked classmate Chong Lee Yeng, in a voice choked with emotion.
She said Wan Juin was a “very nice” girl who would quickly think of a joke or a silly story to entertain friends if she sensed that they were sad.
For the past two weeks, however, it was Wan Juin who needed some cheering as friends saw a dark cloud hanging over the cheerful lass.
“Wan Juin said she was unhappy because her family was going through a rough patch. She said her parents had separated and she was afraid that she would not have a family anymore,” said another classmate.
“Wan Juin said she was staying with her father. She had said that her father was a caring and loving person,” said the friend, adding that he had driven Wan Juin and her younger brother Chen Liang, seven, to school for the past few weeks.
The friend also said that Wan Juin's aunt had sent the siblings to school previously and that it was only lately the father had taken over the duty.
Wan Juin, Chen Liang and their 13-year-old sister Wan Yee were killed by their father, Liau Kok Keong, who later hanged himself on Thursday.
It is believed that the children were supposed to stay with their mother from next week onwards.
Wan Juin’s class teacher, J.C. Seng described the girl as a quiet and unassuming person who loved to read.
“Her grades were good and she could be counted on to lend a hand to her friends. She never gave me any problems in class. Her death is very shocking and it is sad to lose a student,” said a tearful Seng.
An hour after the pupils found out about the tragedy, the tears still flowed.
Serdang Raya folk said the children's father was a lorry driver who recently separated from his wife. It was believed the couple had quarrelled frequently over money matters.
Chicken rice seller Ho Wuen Loy, 25, whose stall is in a restaurant on the ground floor of the family's apartment, said the man kept mostly to himself and did not talk much.
“He used to buy chicken rice from me. Everyone knows he loved his children very much. The way he died, and the children too, is very sad,” said Ho.
When Seri Kembangan state assemblyman Datuk Liew Yuen Keong and Serdang MP Datuk Yap Pian Hon went to pay their respects to Liau's wife and her family, they were stopped by an elderly couple believed to be the wife’s parents.
“I am sorry but we do not want to talk because we are in so much pain. I feel as if a knife is repeatedly stabbing my heart.
“My grandchildren were good children, bright students, now they are gone,” said the man from behind the locked gate, with tears flowing down his cheeks.
Wan Yee was “of good character” and a good student at the Catholic High School in Petaling Jaya, a school official said.
The school was making arrangements for students and teachers to pay their last respects to the victims.
Wan Yee's friends said she was an active member of the Chinese Language Society and used to take part in debates.