On December 23rd, 2017, the parents of a 15-year-old boy convicted of the attempted murder of Stephanie Ng thought he had turned a corner.
After months of supervising the child around the clock, even sleeping in the same room as him, their son had appeared to calm down. The voices in his head had abated and he seemed like a new person.
They decided to let him go out on his own in Dún Laoghaire for the first time in months.
“We thought he was better but he was so well he was actually sick,” they later said.
The parents did not know the boy was planning on meeting 25-year-old year Ms Ng who he had been chatting to on the Whisper social media app.
He brought Ms Ng, who thought he was 19, to the sea baths where he attacked her; strangling her into unconsciousness and slashing her throat using a kitchen knife he had recently purchased from Lidl.
“I will do anything for you. I will be your friend,” she pleaded with him before losing consciousness. He told her to be quiet.
His plan was to kill her and he was surprised when he learned later on the news she had survived, the boy later told court appointed forensic child psychiatrist Dr Richard Church.
He first got the idea for the attack when he was out shopping with his father and realised “anyone could buy a knife”, the Central Criminal Court heard. But he had been having violent thoughts long before that point.
He started drawing images depicting violence in primary school. Around the same time signs of severe depression became apparent.
Matters did not improve at second level. He was sent to a prestigious fee-paying school where he made few friends and felt excluded.
He later moved to another school but fared little better and started to skip classes. His parents told Dr Church that by this point they were worried he would harm himself or someone else.
He first attempted suicide in 2013 by jumping out a school window. He later tried to overdose on tablets and to hang himself.
By late 2017 he was on 30mg of the antidepressant Prozac and spent much of the day playing strategy video games to the frustration of his parents. He was also watching extreme pornography and masturbating frequently.
He began using the Whisper app to talk to strangers. He later told Dr Church he “wanted to rejected someone like I was rejected”.
Ms Ng was selected at random, he said. “I just wanted to attack somebody or a squirrel but no squirrel came.”
He said when he made plans to meet her, he “shut down his emotions and the performer kicked in”. The boy’s mother described “the performer” to Dr Church as a villainous persona occupying her son’s head.
He felt powerful, “like there was new blood in my veins”, he told Dr Church. He said he believed attacking the woman would stop the intrusive thoughts.
Following his arrest on Christmas Day the boy made two further attempts to kill himself in the Garda station. He was put on an anti-psychotic medication shortly afterwards which significantly reduced the hallucinations.
While on remand in Oberstown he has self-harmed on a further 12 occasions. But in other ways he appeared to stabilise. He sat his Junior Certificate and the violent, intrusive thoughts had eased, he said.
He has said he thinks he might get out of custody when he is 18 after which he wants to pursue an university degree.
Regarding the future, Dr Church said there were several indications of an emerging personality disorder and a possible psychotic mental illness.
The boy shows low levels of empathy and remorse. This, combined with other factors such as the anger he feels at the world, means the boy continues to pose a danger to the life of himself and of others.
This is a danger which will increase during high-stress occasions, such as when it comes time for sentencing in October, the doctor warned.