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The Globe and Mail

Wife didn't kill daughter, husband says
Man found four-year-old submerged in tub when he returned home from work

The Globe and Mail, by JOE FRIESEN, March 2, 2005

Dave Chen came home on a warm summer evening last year to discover his four-year-old daughter's lifeless body submerged in the bathtub of their Scarborough home.

After helping police with their inquiries for the past eight months, he was stunned on Monday afternoon as homicide detectives arrived on his doorstep to charge his wife with the first-degree murder of their daughter, Scarlett Chen.

After a translator read the charge in Mandarin, 33-year-old Xuan Peng, Mr. Chen's wife of 10 years, asked whether she could change clothes.

Mr. Chen was so bewildered he could say nothing. Ms. Peng was given time to change, then was handcuffed and led into the back of a police cruiser.

"It's really a shock to me, my wife and my mother-in-law," Mr. Chen said in an interview yesterday. "None of us ever imagined that the police would come to such a conclusion.

"We are so confident about my wife. It's impossible for her to commit this. She loved our daughter so much, and she always told us she is so proud of her."

Ms. Peng was supposed to make her first appearance in court yesterday morning, but a medical emergency prevented her from being there.

Police would not say what happened but informed Mr. Chen that his wife's injuries are not life threatening.

The arrest brings an end to the lengthy investigation of a death police described from the outset as suspicious.

Officials from the coroner's office, the Hospital for Sick Children and the centre of forensic sciences contributed to the police investigation.

Scarlett was found dead at about 7:30 p.m. on July 12, 2004. She had been left with her mother while her father and grandmother were out of the house. When her father returned home, he expected Scarlett to rush to greet him.

"This is my habit. Every time I come back from work, the first thing, that's the nature of the father," he said.

"When I came home, my wife told me our daughter was in bed. I went to the bedroom and she was not there. I go to the bathroom and I find the bathtub filled with water and some laundry, and my daughter was submerged in the water. I called 911 right away, and the emergency tried to save her life, but it was too late."

Mr. Chen said his wife told him she had put her daughter to bed about an hour earlier. He said what happened that night remains a mystery to him, but he believes in his wife.

He remembers that it was hot that day. His wife told him she went downstairs after putting Scarlett to bed, and it's possible, he said, that Scarlett could not sleep because of the heat.

"Maybe she feels hot, then she went to the bathtub," he said. "The bathtub was filled with some water by my wife. What happened next is an accident, and she drowned."

Mr. Chen, who works as a consultant, is trying to find a lawyer to represent his wife. The two came to Canada from China in 1998, and Scarlett, their only child, was born in 2000.

At the time of her death, news-media reports suggested that Scarlett had autism. Mr. Chen said that although she could not speak at 4, she had only mild symptoms of autism.

"She was a very active girl, very lovely and we love her so much," he said. " Our family didn't think she had autism."

Mr. Chen said that after his wife was arrested, he accompanied detectives to 42 Division. He was told that his wife's description of events did not match some of the facts uncovered in their investigation.

"I'll try my best to support my wife. I don't believe she committed this."

Ms. Peng is under medical care and is in police custody.

Her family members are not permitted to see her. She will appear in court when her condition improves.

Copyright 2005 Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. All Rights Reserved.