The disappearance of a teenager shocked China. The discovery of his body raised more questions

(CNN) — For three months, the disappearance of Hu Xinyu gripped China.

The whereabouts of the 15-year-old, who disappeared from a boarding school in the southern province of Jiangxi in October, was for months one of the most discussed topics on the Internet in China.

It prompted numerous questions, speculation and round after round of exhaustive police searches, including one joined by thousands of residents earlier this month.

Then on Sunday, more than 100 days after Hu’s disappearance, local police said her body had been found in the woods near her school.

The discovery was made by a member of the public on Thursday. The body was wearing clothing similar to what Hu was wearing when she disappeared, prompting police to call her family and his lawyer to the scene.

DNA tests later confirmed that the body was Hu’s, Shangrao city police said in a statement.

A voice recorder found near the body had been sent for analysis, the statement said.

But instead of offering closure, the discovery has only raised more questions about the circumstances surrounding his death.

Hu’s death was the top trending topic on China’s Twitter-like Weibo on Monday, with various hashtags amassing hundreds of millions of views.

This screenshot from surveillance camera footage shows Hu Xinyu walking down a hallway in his bedroom. (Courtesy of Hu Xinyu’s family)

Many comments questioned why extensive police searches, using sniffer dogs, drones and thermal imaging equipment, failed to discover the body in an area so close to the school.

The forest where Hu was found is just a five-minute walk from the school, separated by a wall about two meters high from the campus, China National Radio reported.

An autopsy has been carried out, but the results have not been published, according to The Paper, a state news website.

It is not uncommon for children and teenagers to go missing in China, but Hu’s disappearance is one of the most high-profile cases in recent years. According to the Zhongmin Institute of Social Welfare, a Beijing-based non-profit organization, one million people went missing in China in 2020, an average of 2,739 per day.

On Chinese social media, some questioned why, in a country known for its ubiquitous high-tech surveillance and security cameras, a 15-year-old boy could seemingly disappear without a trace.

Hu had just started studying at Zhiyuan High School, a private boarding school in Yanshan County where he entered on a scholarship in September, when he suddenly disappeared.

He was last seen on security camera footage walking down a hallway in his dorm room at dusk on Oct. 14, about 15 minutes before an afternoon study session was to begin in his classroom, according to police.

Hu disappeared somewhere between the dormitory and the teaching building, in an area not covered by security cameras, state media reported.

Hu’s family was notified by the school of Hu’s disappearance about six hours later, the family said in a missing person notice. Hu left his smartwatch and cash in the dormitory, carrying only a digital voice recorder and a school card used to pay for meals on campus, according to the notice.

Hu’s parents could not be reached by cell phone on Monday.

As investigations and searches led to no progress, unsubstantiated speculation swirled online, underscoring deep-seated public distrust of local authorities.

In response, the police issued a detailed statement on January 7 making it clear that they had found no evidence that Hu was killed or involved in an accident inside the school. Hu likely left campus at his own expense, police said.

The statement also detailed the extensive search efforts by the police, covering almost 40 hectares of forest near the school, 200 kilometers of river, 22 kilometers of railways, and 72 ponds and 3 reservoirs.

The search continued after January 7 and involved thousands of people, including local residents who volunteered to join, state media reported at the time.

On Sunday, the website of the People’s Daily, the main mouthpiece of the Communist Party, published an opinion piece calling on local authorities to address public concerns, including why Hu’s body was not found in more than 100 days.

He also called on the public to be patient with the official results.

“The Hu Xinyu incident has attracted the attention of the entire country. No one dares to fake anything, and no one can fake it,” the article said. “If there is any mistake, the consequences will be disastrous.”

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Call 1-800-273-8255 in the United States to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Provides free and confidential assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people in suicidal or distressed crises. You can learn more about their services here, including their guide on what to do if you see suicidal signs on social media. You can also call 1-800-273-8255 to talk to someone about how you can help someone in crisis. Call 1-866-488-7386 for TrevorLifeline, a suicide prevention counseling service for the LGBTQ community.

For assistance outside of the US, the International Association for Suicide Prevention provides a global directory of resources and international hotlines. You can also turn to Befrienders Worldwide.

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