Shane Todd Had Looked Up Suicide on Web, Singapore Inquest Hears

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A young U.S. engineer found dead in his Singapore flat last year had accessed several websites on suicide and depression, a lawyer for the city state told an official inquiry into his death.

The coroner's inquiry, which opened on Monday, comes after months of uncertainty over the fate of Shane Todd, who had been employed by a Singapore government research agency at the time of his death, aged 31.

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He was found hanging from the bathroom door in his apartment in June, two days after he had left his job at the agency, the Institute of Microelectronics (IME). He had been working on the development of gallium nitride, a substance with both commercial and military uses.

An autopsy report submitted by the Singapore police found the death to be "asphyxia by hanging". His parents, Mary and Rick Todd, believe he was murdered and have said he raised concerns with them about the nature of his work.

Speaking after Monday's hearing adjourned, the Todds declined to say what effect, if any, the opening day of the inquiry had had on their view of Shane's death. Mr. Todd said: "We really appreciate the process that's going on here, the way Singapore conducts its court system."

During Monday's hearing, Tai Wei Shyong, the state counsel, released suicide notes addressed to his parents and girlfriend that had been found on a laptop by police the day they discovered his body.

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In a detailed opening statement, Mr. Tai said searches on Shane's laptop revealed he had accessed several "suicide-related websites" and websites related to depression.

"The internet history on the laptop also shows that during the last few months of his life, several depression-related web pages were accessed," he told the inquiry.

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The court also heard testimony from Singapore-based friends of Shane, including his girlfriend, Shirley Sarmiento, a nurse from the Philippines, who discovered his body. She said Shane had been depressed but "did not display any suicidal tendencies".

Asked by the Todds' lawyer whether he believed Shane took his own life, Michael Goodwin, a 46-year-old Canadian who lived across the hall from Shane, said: "I don't believe he was the type of person who would take his own life. He always seemed an upbeat and positive guy. In my mind he displayed no evidence that he would take his own life."

One of the three police officers who first arrived at the scene told the hearing that they had found no evidence Shane's flat had been ransacked.

"From what I assessed at the scene I did not suspect foul play," said Ang Yew Hua, a 26-year-old staff sergeant.

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The police had decided not to dust the apartment for fingerprints, he said.

Monday's hearing also sought to address questions over who had accessed Shane's external hard disc drive three days after his body was found and why.

Mr. Tai told the court that a police officer, Muhammad Khaldun, had examined the drive three days after Shane's death to see if it contained any "suspicious information". The prosecutor said that Mr. Khaldun, who will be called as a witness, did not delete any files.

The state counsel added that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had examined the hard drive at the family's request, confirmed that Mr. Khaldun's computer had been connected to the hard drive.

The inquiry is expected to continue for at least another week with more than 60 witnesses called.