A 22-year-old Hong Kong university student who suffered a severe head injury after falling in a parking garage close to the scene of protests has died, hospital authorities confirmed Friday, a development that could further inflame tensions in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
Police say Chow Tsz-lok, a computer sciences student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), fell from the third floor to the second floor of a parking garage in the residential area of Tseung Kwan O in the early hours of November 4. The incident occurred as police clashed with protesters during a nearby anti-government demonstration.
The Hong Kong Hospital Authority confirmed that Chow died at 8:09 a.m. local time on Friday.
There is no indication that the student was involved in the nearby protest.
Chow had been in a coma and on life support after arriving at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Kowloon on Monday morning.
His death has prompted an outpouring of anger from anti-government protest groups, who claim that police actions on the night of the accident resulted in paramedics being temporarily unable to access Chow.
Police have strenuously denied responsibility for his death and maintained that at no point did officers obstruct ambulance or fire services from assisting Chow. A police statement released on November 5 described the allegations as “certainly false.”
According to police, an ambulance was called at 1:11 a.m. local time Monday – with ambulance crews arriving at the scene approximately 19 minutes later at 1:30 a.m. Hong Kong’s ambulances pledge to arrive at the scene of the incident within 12 minutes of a call.
On Friday, a Hong Kong government spokesperson expressed “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death. “The police has stated earlier that they attach great significance to the incident and the crime unit is now conducting a comprehensive investigation with a view to finding out what happened.”
Protests in the city began in June with peaceful marches against a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China.
Since then, the demonstrations have spiraled into a broader, anti-government, pro-democracy movement, which has at times sparked violent clashes between police and protesters, as well as protesters and members of the public. More than 1,500 people have been treated in hospital for protest-related injuries and more than 3,300 people have been arrested since the start of June.
Students mourn Chow
HKUST students mourned Chow’s death on Friday, with some leaving flowers at a memorial space set up for Chow. At so-called Lennon Walls erected in support of the pro-democracy movement on campus, people left messages addressed to Chow on brightly-colored Post-it notes.
A HKUST graduation event scheduled for Friday afternoon was canceled, with the organizing committee saying in a statement on its website that the university was “struck with grief” following Chow’s death.
Joe Kwok, a 27-year-old Master’s degree in telecommunications graduate, said he was saddened by the news. “The graduation ceremony became a place of mourning,” he said.
A number of mourning services are planned for Friday night around Hong Kong, including at the Tseung Kwan O parking garage where Chow was injured.
Events around Chow’s death
The events leading up to Chow’s death remain unclear, and are still the subject of a police investigation.
At a Friday afternoon press conference, police Senior Superintendent Suzette Foo urged citizens to remain calm and outlined the circumstances that had led to Chow’s fall.
According to Foo, “radical” protesters gathered around a hotel in Tseung Kwan O at about 10:30 p.m. on the night of Sunday, November 3.
Messages seen by CNN that were shared on the encrypted app Telegram suggest protesters went there to intrude on a police officer’s wedding.
Police and more than 100 protesters faced off at about midnight, with demonstrators throwing objects and officers using tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds and sponge-tipped bullets to disperse the crowd.
Foo said on Friday that Chow left his home in Tseung Kwan O alone just before midnight.
He went to a parking garage beside where the protesters had gathered, and walked around for about half an hour, Foo said. Just after 1 a.m. on Monday morning, Chow was found injured on the second floor of the parking lot.
Criticism of police actions increased on Friday after news of Chow’s death, with the president of the HKUST student union, Lai Wai-chun, claiming that the police had obstructed paramedics from reaching Chow.
However Foo said protesters had set up roadblocks, making it impossible for cars to pass. She also said police were not inside the parking garage when Chow was walking around inside, and did not chase after him before he fell.