BEIJING – Chinese authorities said Wednesday that they suspect that the woman who gouged out a 6-year-old boy's eyes was his aunt who later killed herself, adding a surprising twist to a gruesome case with conflicting details.
The attack on the boy horrified the Chinese public and added to outrage over violence against children in the wake of a scandal earlier in the year involving teachers sexually abusing young girls. This time, heart-wrenching images and footage of the wailing child in hospital, his eyes bandaged and parents distraught, have circulated on the Internet as news commentaries slammed the brutality of the attack.
"Mama, why is the sky still so dark?" the child has been quoted as saying while recovering in hospital, his parents unable to bring themselves to tell him about his condition.
On Wednesday, police in the city of Linfen in northern Shanxi province confirmed an official Xinhua News Agency report that the boy's aunt Zhang Huiying had been identified as a suspect because his blood was found on her clothes. Six days after the boy was attacked, Zhang killed herself by jumping into a well.
Xinhua did not cite a possible motive for the aunt to attack the boy.
Initial reports said the boy, Guo Bin, whose also goes by the nickname Bin Bin, had been playing outside his home on the evening of Aug. 24 when he was lured by an unidentified woman into a field where she used a tool to gouge out his eyes. Family members found the boy late at night in a remote area, his face covered in blood, eyelids swollen.
The police finding seemed to conflict with the family's earlier comments on the boy's assailant, which cited him as saying that the woman spoke with an accent from outside the area and had hair that was dyed blonde.
Bin Bin's mother said in a phone interview that the boy was disoriented after the traumatizing attack.
"It is easy to understand that he wasn't clear about the situation," Wang Wenli told The Associated Press. "He said her accent was from another region, but he later amended that. He then said it was a local accent, but he did not say that it was his aunt."
She declined to talk about the police evidence against her sister-in-law, saying: "The police did not tell us anything. I do not know."
One of the case investigators reached by phone, a police officer in Fenxi county surnamed Liu, referred only to the Xinhua report and refused to answer further questions, saying he was not authorized to speak to the media. Calls to the city and county's police bureaus' propaganda departments rang unanswered.
State media previously had raised the possibility that Bin Bin's corneas were taken for sale because of a donor shortage in China, but police said the boy's eyeballs were found at the scene, and that the corneas hadn't been removed. At the time, though, Guo's father told The Associated Press the family had not actually seen the eyeballs.
Some media reports said the aunt had argued with Bin Bin's parents over how much money each family should contribute to the care of his grandfather, who was paralyzed. But Wang, the boy's mother, told the AP that reports of a dispute between the families were false.
"There was no dispute between us and the aunt," Wang said. "I have heard that someone said we had a dispute over taking care of the grandfather, but that is just a lie."
Wang's brother Wang Wenjun, one of the boy's uncles, also said by phone that Zhang, the aunt, might have been mentally ill, saying it was unclear why she committed suicide.
Bin Bin was recovering steadily after a week of treatment, his mother said. State broadcaster CCTV aired fresh footage of the boy in hospital being guided by a doctor to feel his way around a room with his hands. He's seen singing a children's song to a doctor and playing with a plush toy elephant, teddy bear and other toys.
"He talks to me, and he plays with toys that people have sent him," Wang said. "He still doesn't know that he likely will be blind the rest of his life."
Help has poured in from the Chinese public and elsewhere in the form of donations and gifts. A Hong Kong-based eye specialist who started a hospital in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen sent two doctors to evaluate the boy's condition and has offered to treat him at no charge.
Dr. Dennis Lam said the next stage in Bin Bin's treatment should be for him to have artificial eyeballs implanted within the following few weeks, before scar tissue develops. Over the next decade, Lam said, new technologies being developed by researchers in the United States and elsewhere could enable the boy to attain limited, simplified vision because his brain's visual center still works.
"If we can have something to replace the function of the eyeball, then we can still stimulate the visual center of the brain," Lam said. "Little Bin Bin has got the memory, has got the ability to see in his brain."