- The CCTV footage does not appear to be doctored.
- Tear gas was likely not a factor in his fall. We only have evidence of tear gas being fired toward the place he fell from minutes after his fall.
- Riot police were entering the ground floor about the time he fell but were nowhere near him.
- We see no evidence that he was stalked or pushed.
- Many video clips purporting to be Alex Chow are not, in fact, him.
- He was likely a ‘scout’ (a cop spotter for a Telegram channel).
- We believe he fell off rather than jumped over the wall.
- There is a plausible scenario wherein he was shot from outside and fell forward. Information from HKmap.live plus scout reports from Telegram channels helped us conclude police would have been in front of him outside the garage.
- Ambulances and medics were delayed but it might not have mattered, but this is for another report.
The evening of November 3rd was eventful and very few journalists or observers were paying much attention to Tsuen Kwan O. Police were deployed in the afternoon at Sheung Tak Plaza to ‘guard’ a police officer’s wedding. The exact chronology of what happened that night isn’t clear but police presence anywhere typically draws a lot of heckling and negative attention. Sometime after 22:00 police changed into riot gear and barricades went up. The first tear gas was fired at 23:00.
By 00:25 there was a police cordon on the southern end of Tong Ming Street at the Tong Chung Street intersection. Protesters had erected a barricade on the northern side of the same intersection on Tong Chun Street underneath the pedestrian bridge connecting Sheung Tak Plaza and Sheung Take Estate and the car park where Alex Chow fell. However, protesters were not just at the barricades. There were many inside the garage on 2/F observing (and heckling) police. There were additional protestors behind the barricades, all ready to scatter into the numerous residential estates and courtyards behind the mall.
Two squads of riot police (Blue Team and Green Team) charged the barricade 00:58 and reached it by 00:59. An object, likely a traffic cone, dropped from 2/F of the garage at 00:59 and police fired tear gas. For unknown reasons, they fired another round of tear gas into the 3rd floor at 01:00. At 01:01 the Blue Team and Green Team meet with another squad that wasn’t part of the charge (Red Team). Between 01:01 and 01:04 police are seen in live stream footage fanning out into the residential estates.
At roughly 01:04 something either in the garage or the garage rooftop (a residential garden area) caught their attention, a “retreat!” order is shouted, Red Team enters the garage, and for the next few minutes, the top floors of the garage where Alex fell has their attention. Shotguns can be seen pointing at the top floors, flashlights are scanning it too, and rounds can be heard fired.
There are no known witnesses to Chow’s fall. No one is seen on the third floor of the parking garage near him when we think he fell (+/- 10 minutes). No one is seen chasing him. There is no obvious threat that he would be running from. Police are nowhere near him inside the garage when it happens, but they are outside.
We have timed Alex Chow’s fall to some time between 01:02 and 01:05. The evidence for the earlier time is a single frame Apple Daily discovered that appears to the legs of a falling body directly over the location where he fell ten seconds after his last confirmed sighting in CCTV footage (01:02:25 CCTV on the CCTV timestamp, which is 30 seconds fast). Though the timing is remarkable, we tend to believe that frame is likely a lens flare, moth, or another image artifact.
Our group is more persuaded that the fall happens at 01:04–01:05. There we see who we believe is the eyewitness ‘Ricky’ and his friend hearing, and quickly reacting to, something at 01:05:50 in the CCTV footage. The ‘something’ was Alex Chow, because they run up to the third floor, run back down moments later, and then lead firefighters towards Alex’s fall spot. We find 01:02:25 unlikely given the size of the garage, speed of their reaction, and this being the first time anyone notices Alex. If the fall happened at 01:02 it is likely an unsuspicious slip or mistake. Between 01:04 and 01:10, however, there are other scenarios that raise questions.
The Scout Hypothesis
Early in our investigation, we determined that it was far more likely that he was standing on the 2 meter wall he went over rather than competing theories that he jumped over the wall expecting to find flooring on the other side. We also don’t see anything happening on 2/F where he walked up from, or 3/F where he fell, that would explain a panicked rush to jump over the wall escaping from something without looking over it first. Nor is he running up the car ramp to 3/F when he is last seen.
So he was likely standing on the wall intentionally when he fell. A local member of our group mentioned that there was already online speculation that he was a ‘scout’ when we settled on this hypothesis. By ‘scout’ we mean someone who joins one of the many intel Telegram channels that report real-time police movements and activities to protesters on the ground. The frantic movements seen in the confirmed sighting map police later released show exactly what we would expect of a scout:
- He stayed on elevated locations with good visibility of police movements.
- He moved roughly when and where police did.
- He kept a distance from tear gas and police charges.
- His fall location would have been mostly obscured on the street directly below him while providing a good vantage point to observe riot police fanning out into the residential estates and courtyards.
With one exception, the CCTV footage doesn’t look altered or manipulated. People generally show up in different cameras when we would expect them to, sometimes seamlessly. Events captured in footage outside the garage also appear when they should inside the garage. The video quality is generally poor. On 3/F, where Alex fell, there are long gaps in coverage as the camera makes slow 180 degree pans.
The one exception is 2/F Camera C31. Its footage ends approximately when eyewitness accounts claim HKPF riot police ran into volunteer First Aiders inside the garage and threatened them with riot guns. In the first batch of footage, riot police are seen entering the garage on the ground floor roughly when we think he fell, sweeping as a 30-person team, but don’t re-appear on the 2/F (where Alex fell) until they run into firefighters attending to him.
Original reporting, likely sourcing residents as eyewitnesses, assumed that Alex Chow fell trying to escape from tear gas. We were initially persuaded that it might be a factor after seeing police fire tear gas into the floor he fell from at 00:59 and 01:01. We became less persuaded as we realized he fell a few minutes later at the opposite end of the garage. But the theory was essentially ruled out when police released a map of his known locations before the fall. He was outside on a bridge when the tear gas was fired into the garage.
There are many video clips that, in various degrees of ‘good faith’, purporting to show video footage either inside (CCTV) or outside the parking garage of Alex Chow. After examining all the CCTV footage we concur with the police timeline and map of known Chow sights. Given that map and timeline:
- This is the last sighting of Chow.
- A viral clip of someone dropping from one floor to the next was at a different time and on the opposite side of the parking garage from where he fell.
- The ‘chase & fall‘ scene on 2.5/F was not Chow. This scene fueled speculation that Chow was being ‘stalked’ and might have been pushed over, but those two can be seen together here. We made a map showing where Chow was at that time.
- An anonymous eyewitness account saying that Chow got in an ‘argument’ on a bridge with police, was chased, and was seen to fall earlier is not corroborated by the footage. That said, Chow did run to the end of a bridge at Beverly Gardens (where there were police) then jogged 200 meters to the location he fell in two minutes.
So What Happened?
One hypothesis after another was ruled out as more footage and information came out. Chow’s fall is a true mystery in the sense that we have enough contextual information to rule out almost every early theory but not enough to make any firm conclusions. It is beyond perplexing that Chow fell to his eventual death during an aggressive HKPF clearance operation, was clearly a protest participant, but there’s no direct (or even indirect!) evidence connecting anything police did with his fall.
Putting two of our working theories together, the timeline looks like this: Chow is a ‘scout’ trying to relay police locations around Sheung Tak to his fellow sauzuk protesters. He runs out to observe their locations on Tong Ming Street and around Beverly Estates approximately when police charged the Tong Chun Street barricades.
He would have seen a lot of police. He turns around to jog back into the garage at 01:01 to observe police on the opposite side of Sheung Tak Estates from the third floor and report his findings to the channel ‘commander.’ He reaches the spot that he fell by 01:02 and stands on the wall overlooking Kwok Ming Court. If the ‘legs’ frame is him falling, he slipped almost as soon as he stood up.
If he fell when we think he did, 01:04–01:05, he was standing on the wall for two to three minutes before the fall. Just a bit forward of the wall he’s standing on is a concrete horizontal support beam that ran parallel with the wall along the roof. It would have been at an almost perfect height and location to lean against with one’s hands for stability while standing on a wall with such a steep drop on the other side.
He would have been leaning just over the wall if he was using the beam in front of him for support. He would have likely fallen forward, not backward, if hit by a rubber bullet, impact baton, foam round, or beanbag by a riot cop outside. Ricochet or a flinch from a close shot might have the same result: losing his grip and falling about 8 meters with only fall wounds. After more than a week of investigating, this was the only plausible non-accident scenario for the fall. The problem was we had no evidence that police were in a position to take a shot like this at him.
After scraping scout Telegram channels and getting the data from HKmap.live for that night, Nathan Ruser reconstructed police sightings around the time he fell. We collected 300 police movements and discovered that they would have been able to see him had they looked. He would have been well within the effective accurate range of most ‘less-than-lethal’ weapons. We’ve yet to find footage of what Red Team was doing at that time, but Blue Team and Green Team were all pointing flashlights and firearms at the top floors on the other end of the garage at the same time.