Police investigating the deaths of four Chinese children who drank pesticide after being abandoned by their migrant worker parents say they have found a suicide note near the eldest victimâ€™s body.
â€œThanks for your kindness. I know you mean well for us, but we should go now,â€ the note said, according to the state-run China News Service.
The four siblings, a boy and three girls aged five to 14, were found dead on Tuesday at their home in a rural village outside the city of Bijie in Guizhou, one of Chinaâ€™s poorest provinces.
Initial reports suggested they had poisoned themselves after their parents abandoned them and left the village to find work elsewhere.
There are an estimated 60 million â€œleft behindâ€ children in China, who are often put into the care of elderly relatives or unsupervised when their parents migrate to the cities looking for work.
The mother of the four children returned to the village on Friday from Guangdong province, Chinaâ€™s manufacturing heartland, where she had been working in a toy factory.
â€œI did not shoulder my responsibility for them,â€ Ren Xifen, 32, told Chinaâ€™s official Xinhua news agency, after arriving home to see her childrenâ€™s bodies before their cremation.
â€œI have truly failed them,â€ she added, according to the China Youth Daily newspaper. â€œHow I wish I could go with them.â€
Ren admitted she had left them behind in early 2014 after a dispute with her husband involving domestic violence. â€œI didnâ€™t dare not go home,â€ she said.
In March this year, the siblings found themselves completely alone after their father also left the village. â€œI am illiterate and cannot even write my own name. I wanted them to perform well in school, unlike me, living a hard life,â€ Ren said.
State-controlled media outlets have sought to downplay the governmentâ€™s possible responsibility for the tragedy, but at least two local officials have been sacked.
Facing public outrage over the deaths, Chinaâ€™s prime minister, Li Keqiang, was forced to step in on Friday to promise an urgent inquiry. â€œSuch a tragedy cannot be allowed to happen again,â€ he said.
Investigating officers have determined it was a mass suicide, Xinhua reported on Saturday, citing the letter police said they had found at the childrenâ€™s home. Liu Xin, a senior police officer, told the China News Service his team had used handwriting analysis to determine that the coupleâ€™s 14-year-old son had written the note.
â€œI made a vow that I wouldnâ€™t live over the age of 15,â€ the note said, according to the news agency. â€œIâ€™m 14 now. I dream about death, and yet that dream never comes true. Today it must finally come true.â€
Chinese bloggers reacted to claims about the existence of a suicide note with suspicion. â€œIt is still uncertain whether there is a note or whether its contents have been tampered with,â€ Xu Xin, a law professor from the Beijing Institute of Technology, wrote on Weibo, Chinaâ€™s equivalent to Twitter.
The deaths are the second tragedy involving â€œleft behindâ€ children in Bijie in recent years. In 2012, five young boys from the same area died after lighting a fire in a dustbin inside which they had taken shelter from the cold.
Additional reporting by Luna Lin