Hong Kong (CNN) — A murder suspect who drew widespread sympathy from Chinese public opinion died after more than a week on the run, sparking a wave of sadness and outrage on social media.
Ou Jinzhong, accused of killing two neighbors and wounding three others in the southern Chinese province of Fujian, committed suicide by resisting arrest on Monday, according to Putian city police in a statement on Monday. at night from China.
Ou was sent to hospital and died despite emergency rescue efforts, the police statement added.
Over the past week, hundreds of police and other members of the search team had been searching for Ou in the hills, to which he fled after allegedly attacking his neighbors in a coastal Putian town on Thursday.
Police and paramilitary forces eventually found him in a cave Monday afternoon and cornered him, according to the police statement.
Police said 55-year-old Ou attacked his neighbors with a knife amid a long dispute over land, killing a 78-year-old man and his daughter-in-law. The man’s wife, 34-year-old grandson and 9-year-old great-grandson were also injured.
A story that captivated millions
The persecution of this man captivated millions of Chinese, but not because they wanted to see him arrested. On the contrary, many openly hoped that he would never be caught.
“Uncle, run away. I hope you can find happiness for the rest of your life,” read a comment on Weibo, the Chinese platform similar to Twitter.
Displays of sympathy and support are highly unusual for a suspected murderer in China, where murder is punishable by death.
According to the police, Ou was the main suspect in an attack allegedly committed on 10 October. Local police and the Pinghai County government did not provide details about the weapon allegedly used or reveal the identities of those killed and wounded.
Among the victims are four generations of a family living next door to Ou, according to Chinese media. A town official told the state-run Beijing News that a 70-year-old man and his daughter-in-law were killed in the alleged attack. The man’s wife, 30-year-old grandson and 10-year-old great-grandson were also injured, he added.
CNN asked police and county officials for comment, but received no response.
In the absence of official information, the Chinese media and the public used the accounts of other villagers, Ou’s posts on Weibo, and previous media reports to piece together an unofficial version of events that could have led to the murderers.
They claim that Ou was an ordinary man brought to the brink of despair by a years-long dispute over housing. Public sympathy rose after reports surfaced that he had saved a boy from drowning at sea three decades ago and had rescued two dolphins that were nearly stranded in 2008.
Many blamed Ou’s apparent transition from savior to murder suspect on the evils that have long plagued China’s local governance, from abuse of power to official inaction. Others see it as a reflection of the broader failure of the country’s legal and bureaucratic system, exacerbated by an embattled free press and paralyzed civil society. And some warn that if things don’t change, similar tragedies will unfold in the future.
A house that could not be built
For nearly five years, Ou and his family (including his 89-year-old mother) were homeless, according to Ou’s Weibo posts and Chinese media reports. Instead, they lived in a tiny tin hut in a seaside town in the city of Putian.
CNN cannot independently verify the authenticity of Ou’s account, although his posts contained detailed personal information, including his national identity card and mobile phone number. CNN has tried to call the number, but the phone is off.
According to the posts, Ou was repeatedly prevented from building his own home due to disputes over the land with his neighbor, a deep grievance that he had tried to resolve in vain.
It all started in 2017, when Ou decided to demolish his dilapidated house and build a new one, according to his posts on Weibo. He said the government approved his request to rebuild, so he went ahead and pulled down the old house. Since then, however, he said he had not been able to build the new one because his neighbor repeatedly blocked the works.
On Weibo, Ou said that he had repeatedly appealed to the police, town officials, government and the media for help, but the problem remained unresolved. A village official confirmed the land disputes to Beijing News, saying local cadres had tried to mediate, without success.
After years of bickering, the final straw came on October 10, when a typhoon tore through the sheet of tin that covered Ou’s hut and threw a fragment at the neighbor’s vegetable patch. Ou and the neighbor reportedly got into a dispute when he came to pick up the torn sheet, and the situation quickly escalated, according to the state-run China News Week.
Authorities did not reveal the exact details of the alleged killings and it is unclear if there were any witnesses or the scenario the officers faced when they arrived at the home.
As the news spread, photos of Ou’s humble home appeared online, with many expressing surprise at its dilapidated state. The torn sheet metal had exposed the hut’s scant metal skeleton, as well as a layer of black plastic that was supposedly used to protect from the wind. You are among heaps of rubble, a stone’s throw from your neighbor’s four-story house.
The fact that Ou and his octogenarian mother lived in such harsh conditions attracted great sympathy on the Internet. A town official later told Beijing News that Ou built the hut in 2019 and that he lived there alone. But it was his failed attempts to seek help that sparked a wave of anger.
Since then, a relative of the victims has denied that they were stalkers or had political connections, in an interview with a digital media outlet run by a Wuhan newspaper.
Inside his home, Ou had kept a piece of cigarette wrapping paper, on the back of which he wrote dozens of phone numbers: from Communist Party organizations, government departments, state media, and various telephone lines from complaint, according to Beijing News.
“A normal society should not push a law-abiding citizen to a point of despair, or even lead him to commit crimes. If they exhaust all legal means and remain unable to defend their legitimate rights, their private recourse will inevitably arouse widespread sympathy. “said a commenter on Weibo.
Ou’s frustration and despair were detailed on his Weibo account, which he opened earlier this year in an apparent attempt to draw public attention to his case. “Shouldn’t the government protect ordinary people? Why are the rich and powerful so arrogant?” He asked in a post in January, using hashtags from district and municipality petition offices to get attention. official.
“It has always happened that honest people abide by the rules, but the law will never be on the side of honest people,” he wrote in another post. “I hope someone can tell me where I can turn. I have gone to both the provincial and municipal offices for letters and calls, and I have not received any response. Please, everyone, I beg you to show me a way forward.”
In May, he posted a screenshot of a WeChat message that he posted to a provincial news website, hoping it would report on his case. In another message, he wrote to the mayor of Putian: “Hello mayor! I am not very polite. If you can see this, please help us, thank you!”
His posts got minimal attention, with a couple of occasional likes.
Missing and wanted
The official response and the public attention that Ou sought never came, until news of the alleged killings broke on October 10.
Since then, Ou’s case has made headlines and dominated discussions on social media. Hundreds of search team members are searching for him in the nearby hills, where he was last seen.
In roadside video captured by security camera on October 10, Ou took long, heavy strides, shoulders hunched and right hand tugging at a corner of his white T-shirt, before his tall figure disappeared behind. of a rock.
Then on October 12, his Weibo account also disappeared, after his posts went viral and sparked a public outcry. The district government released a statement that night, promising to investigate allegations of inaction by local officials.
On Weibo, a hashtag with Ou’s username continued to gain followers, with more than 7 million views, but on October 13 it had also disappeared.
The censorship further fueled public anger. Many blamed local authorities for not addressing Ou’s concerns.
On October 13, the Pinghai County local government posted a reward for Ou on the social media app Wechat: 20,000 yuan ($ 3,106) for any security footage or information leading to his arrest or 50,000 yuan ($ 7,765). for the evidence of his corpse.
The announcement provoked an immediate reaction. “The cash reward for discovering a corpse is greater than that of a living man … is it really a government notice?” Asked a comment with 60,000 likes. “It is because a dead man can no longer speak,” said the most prominent answer.
The reward notice was subsequently removed from the government’s WeChat account.
Can’t be hidden forever
Liu Xiaoyuan, a veteran human rights lawyer, said the sympathy for Ou was not surprising.
“The public is well aware that he had allegedly resorted to violence, but they do not support him for carrying out a murder. Instead, they are angered by the lack of response from the competent authorities to Ou’s request for help and for not have fulfilled their obligations, “he said.
Land disputes are common in rural China, according to Liu, who helped many farmers defend their rights during his decades-long career.
“This is a heavy lesson for local governments: if they don’t pay attention to people’s disputes and complaints, conflicts could easily escalate,” he said. “In Ou’s case, if some government department had stepped in to help him resolve the dispute, it might not have ended up on the road to murder.”