Searching for Answers

By Beacon Staff

MARION – The phone hasn’t stopped ringing in Rick and Mary Todd’s living room. Sometimes it’s a request for another interview – there have been “countless” interviews in recent weeks – and sometimes it’s another tip, another lead about what happened to their son on the night of June 22, 2012.

That night, Shane Todd’s bags were packed. He was scheduled to return home a week later, after working for the Institute of Microelectronics in Singapore for 18 months.

“He had a ticket and he had a job (here in the United States),” Mary said recently.

But that plane ticket never left the countertop. On June 24, Shane’s girlfriend found the 31-year-old American hanging in his apartment bathroom. Police say it was suicide, but after studying the scene and their son’s body, Rick and Mary believe it was murder. In recent weeks, the couple has been the subject of several television news stories. Now, Montana’s two U.S. senators are asking to block funds to the Singaporean technology institute Shane worked for.

Rick, an airline pilot, described his son as a kind young man who was protective of his three brothers and loved karaoke. Shane attended the University of Florida and later earned a doctorate in silicon devices from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He graduated in 2010 and had numerous job offers, but the one to work for a government research institution in Singapore was the most attractive. He was ready for adventure.

Shane arrived in Singapore in December 2010 and began working for IME. During his time there, his parents said Shane worked on a sensitive gallium nitride project with both commercial and military applications. According to Rick and Mary, Huawei, a Chinese firm, had partnered with IME on the project, something that made Shane uncomfortable.

“Shane had no interest in the military applications, but he became nervous in February because of what he was being asked to do,” Mary said, adding that he was concerned the work he was doing was putting American security at risk.

In a press release found on its website, IME denies working on a classified project with the Chinese firm. The statement was in response to an extensive story published about Shane in the Financial Times on Feb. 15.

But Shane’s parents say their son’s weekly phone and Skype conversations had become more tense. Mary said Shane told them to contact the American embassy if he didn’t call.

“He was afraid,” Mary said. “He had been telling me that threats had been made to his life.”

In early 2012, Shane decided to leave Singapore and gave IME 60 days notice. His time there was later extended by 30 days so he could finish a project. In June, Shane was getting ready to leave. He had been offered a research job in the United States, had purchased a ticket home and was even putting price tags on his furniture in an effort to sell everything.

On June 24, Shirley Sarmiento, Shane’s girlfriend, found his body. She immediately contacted Shane’s parents and told Mary the news. Hours later, Shane’s family headed for Singapore, arriving on June 26. But when they got there, Mary said the local official’s account didn’t match reality. The police said Shane had killed himself and gave them a two-page suicide note that was found on his computer. In the note, he thanked IME and talked about treasured family memories, including drinking Shirley Temples on the beach.

“They handed the note to me and I read the first paragraph and I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not written by him,” Mary said. “Shirley Temples on a beach? We never did that.”

The following day, the Todds went to identify their son’s body. Thinking Shane had hung himself, Mary said they were ready for an unsettling scene. Hanging victims have disfigured faces, Mary said.

“What we saw was our gorgeous son – there was nothing wrong with his face or body,” Mary said.

The marks on Shane’s body were small, wire-like cuts around his neck and hands. The family documented the cuts and later had a forensic pathologist inspect the images. The cuts, the Todds say, indicate Shane had been attacked from behind and choked to death.

The official account of Shane’s death became even more unbelievable when the family visited his apartment, Mary said. Although the police described a complex pulley system Shane used to hang himself, the family found no such evidence.

“It was all marble walls and there were no bolts in the walls. Nothing was in the right place,” Mary said. “When we got there and saw the apartment, I knew he was murdered.”

Before they left the apartment, the Todds packed some of Shane’s belongings, including what Mary thought was a small speaker but was really a hard drive.

Following Shane’s funeral, the Todds started looking for more information and Rick recalled that hard drive. As it turns out, the drive had a plethora of information about the work Shane had done in Singapore. A computer analyst reviewed the drive and found that someone had accessed the drive in Shane’s apartment after he died, evidence the family says suggests foul play.

The Todds made a second trip to Singapore in December and met with embassy and IME officials. Mary said the meeting ended with IME officials asking the family to never contact them again.

“You could tell they were interested in getting rid of us,” she said.

“They thought we’d come to Singapore to get (Shane’s) body and leave,” Rick added. “They didn’t know the type of family they were dealing with.”

Earlier this year, the Financial Times wrote an extensive story about Shane’s death and since then the Todds have become the focus of media outlets across the country. On March 14, Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester announced they were pushing legislation to block tax dollars from going to IME until Singapore shares evidence with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which is looking into the death. In 2010, IME received nearly half a million dollars from the U.S. Department of Defense for a military technology project.

“It’s time that Singapore give the FBI full access in the investigation of Shane Todd’s death,” Tester said in a statement. “Shane was a brilliant young scientist who cared for his work and for his country, and this is a way to hold Singapore accountable and let them know we’re serious about getting the answers the Todds deserve.”

Baucus met with Singaporean officials in Washington who promised to share evidence with the FBI and look into the actions of IME.

On the same day Baucus and Tester demanded that Singapore share information with the FBI, IME released a statement on its website. The company said that many of the media reports about Shane’s death are based on speculation and that it could not comment on the matter until the police investigation is over.

“We deeply grieve his loss and will for a long time to come,” the statement reads. “Our thoughts are with him and his family.”

But the Todds are not giving up, which is why the phone never stops ringing at their home in Marion. And it won’t stop ringing until they get the answers they want.

“Our goal is to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else’s sons or daughters,” Mary said.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.