'There was blood at the ends of his fingers': How a boy's life ends trapped in overheating bus cabin

By Staff reporters   May 30, 2024 | 04:25 am PT
Tran Gia Huy walked up the steps into the bus and sat where everyone knew he always sat: in the seat directly behind the driver.

Eleven hours later, he was found dead in the exact same spot. His spot.

The 5-year-old boy took the bus to his kindergarten in the northern province of Thai Binh on Wednesday for the closing ceremony before the summer break, only to be forgotten on the bus the whole day in 35-degree-Celsius weather, and died tragically.

Early that morning, Huy's grandmother had gotten him up for school in Vu Thu District at 5:45 a.m.

Huy had been used to riding the bus ever since he was three years old and first enrolled at Hong Nhung 2 Kindergarten in the northern province's capital Thai Binh City.

He rode the school bus every day because the family lived 5 km away and it was the most convenient option.

Living further away from the school than any of his other classmates, Huy was always the first pupil to get picked up in the morning, and the last to be dropped off in the afternoon.

The apartment room where Tran Gia Huy lived with his grandmother Dinh Thi Hang (pictured) in Thai Binh Province, May 30, 2025. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

The apartment room where Tran Gia Huy lived with his grandmother Dinh Thi Hang (pictured) in Thai Binh Province, May 30, 2025. Photo by VnExpress/Gia Chinh

'He said goodbye to me'

On this week's fateful Wednesday morning, Huy was preparing for the school year's closing ceremony, according to his family. He drank a box of milk at home before leaving, and put another in his bag to drink during the ceremony, Hang recalled.

Even after his death, she still beams proudly when she speaks of her productive and happy grandson. She had always raised him as her own child after his parents divorced and the boy’s mother went to work in Taiwan.

"At 6:13 a.m., I called his homeroom teacher to enroll Huy in chess and English classes, and I agreed to send in the cost of the extra class fees," she said.

Huy and his grandmother then walked to the bus stop, where at 6:20 a.m. Huy got on board for the last time.

"There was only the driver and one teacher on the bus. As always, Huy sat behind the driver's seat and said goodbye to me," Hang said.

The bus then traveled its regular 40-minute route, picking up nine more children before reaching the kindergarten. The driver opened the door and the students exited to make their way to class. Except for Huy.

The teacher followed behind the children towards the school without Huy. She entered the classroom like any other day.

The driver parked the bus near the school gates before going home.

When the teacher in charge of attendance took roll call, she learned that Huy had not entered the room.

But his family was not informed of, or even asked about, his truancy, Thai Binh police said.

By the time proper inquiries were officially made, it was already too late, according to investigators.

Dinh Thi Hang, grandmother of 5-year-old Tran Gia Huy, grieves for her grandsons death in Thai Binh, May 30, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tan

Dinh Thi Hang, grandmother of 5-year-old Tran Gia Huy, grieves for her grandson's death in Thai Binh, May 30, 2024. Photo by VnExpress/Le Tan

Forlorn and forsaken

After walking home from the bus stop, Hang mostly went about her usual day.

However, on normal days she often checked a camera feed from Huy's classroom that she has access to. She was always curious to see what he was up to. But because of the school's closing ceremony event on the school yard, the feed was off that particular day.

The school had also informed her that the afternoon lesson would last an hour longer than usual on the closing ceremony day and families needed to pick the children up, Hang asked her son to do it.

The uncle went to school at around 5 p.m. but was told by the teacher that Huy had not attended class that day.

Unable to learn where the boy was, the uncle put the teacher on the phone with Hang.

The grandmother said she had already handed Huy over to the school transport in the morning.

Without a clue, the teacher in charge of transportation then messaged all of the school's teachers. The teachers in charge of Huy's class rushed to the bus, which was still parked right outside the school gates.

It had been there the entire day. In this time of year's smoldering heat, the temperature had held fast at a scorching 35 degrees Celsius without ever cooling off.

Rescue mission: impossible

To make matters worse, the bus was locked when the teachers arrived. They had no way to get inside. They frantically called the driver and school management, but no one was able to locate a key to the bus door.

Nguyen Ngoc Thai, 37, a father of another student at the school, said he was on campus at the time and saw two teachers trying to pry open the door of the bus at around 6 p.m. He could not see through the tint of the windows, so he asked if a student was left inside the bus.

The parent then joined in and tried to kick the door open several times, to no avail. He then pulled the door slightly open, as wide as he could, which was just barely enough to create an opening for a slender teacher to slip inside.

Once inside, the teacher screamed: "We lost him!"

Neighbors, passersby, local residents and other bystanders showed up and helped pull the door open wide enough for the teacher to squeeze Huy's limp and motionless body outside.

Thai recalled that observing a lifeless child's body was unlike any other experience in the world.

"He was already unconscious, his skin had gone purple and his mouth was foaming. There was blood at the ends of his fingers," the shook-up father recalled.

The school’s principal, security guards and Huy’s uncle then used another parent’s car to rush him to Thai Binh general hospital 4 km down the road.

But the small young boy was immediately pronounced dead-on-arrival.


Experts have so far theorized that after being trapped in the bus for 11 hours, the searing heat and lack of food and water resulted in respiratory failure that eventually killed Huy.

As inspections into the incident have deepened, few concrete details have emerged.

All this week and part of last week, the school’s regular bus conductor had been on leave, so a new employee had been tasked with the work of driving the bus.

Temporary replacement driver Nguyen Van Lam had been put in charge of driving the children’s vehicle starting May 22.

Both drivers had been retained under contracts that the school had signed with a bus transportation service provider that employed them.

Thai Binh Province chairman Nguyen Khac Than ordered provincial police to identify Huy’s cause of death that same Wednesday. In the same order, he charged investigators with determining the school’s liability in the incident.

As a result, an ongoing criminal investigation is currently underway, and the teacher in charge of transportation at the school has already been arrested.

Huy’s mother in Taiwan has been informed of her son’s death. She is now preparing to return to Vietnam to see her son’s face one last time.

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