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Fugitive killer who fled Toronto mental health facility for China told doctors of his escape plan

Zhebin Cong, 47, went missing on July 3 while on an unaccompanied pass to the community. Cong was found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder for the 2014 murder of his roommate.
Zhebin Cong, 47, went missing on July 3 while on an unaccompanied pass to the community. Cong was found not criminally responsible on account of mental disorder for the 2014 murder of his roommate.

Zhebin Cong's treatment team had difficulty arranging for his discharge from the facility to live in the community because of his fixation on returning to China

In order to enrol fugitive killer Zhebin Cong in English-language training programs to help his mental health treatment, his psychiatric team worked to get official identification documents for the Chinese national, National Post has learned.

It is not known whether new identity papers materialized or helped him leave Canada, but Cong, found not criminally responsible for a brutal 2014 murder on account of mental disorder, is now an international fugitive after fleeing a psychiatric facility in Toronto and boarding a plane out of Canada.

His flight should not have been a surprise.

Cong, 47, repeatedly declared a “concrete” plan to return to China if he had the chance, his psychiatric records say.

He was “very fixed” on returning to China and adamant about not continuing English classes because it will be useless to him when he gets back home.

His treatment team had difficulty arranging for his discharge from a psychiatric facility to live in the community because of his fixation on moving back to China, his reports say.

“He is stuck on this and seems a little surprised that his discharge can only be done by the hospital approving his accommodation,” say his Ontario Review Board records from April 9, 2019, obtained by the Post along with four years of Cong’s board records.

“A focal point going forward will be to keep trying to convince Mr. Cong that, despite his wish to return to China, he should look at possible accommodation options while he is here,” the April report says.

Cong, 47, went missing July 3 while on an unaccompanied pass to the community.

Toronto police say he boarded a plane for an international flight that same day, but wouldn’t say where it was headed.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) notified police the day he failed to return. CAMH has launched an internal review of the incident with the “highest level of attention,” according to a written statement. CAMH would not respond to questions about his escape saying it is now a police investigation.

It seems probable Cong made good on his repeated statements to his treatment team that he would return home and possibly even seek another “cleansing ceremony” from a Tao master in China, like one he said made him feel better in 2013 when he sought relief for depression and suicidal thoughts there.

He retained close ties to his homeland.

Cong was born in China and immigrated to Canada in 2010. His mother still lives in China, whom he spoke to regularly over Skype, and he visited his homeland on a four-month-long trip in 2013, according to his records.

Cong grew up an only child in China. His father died when Cong was 16 years old. He then completed an electrical engineering degree and started working at age 23.

He married but divorced within six months.

After moving to Toronto, he struggled with English. He found work as a computer programmer but was fired in 2012 for issues related to his mental illness, he told his doctors. He attempted suicide but called for an ambulance to say he had cut himself.

When in hospital, he was diagnosed with major depression with psychotic features.

About a year before the murder, Cong spent his savings on a four-month trip back to China.

The visit signifies he was in good standing with the Chinese government and had the ability to travel there, including a passport, at the time.

When Cong returned from China in March 2014, he moved into the basement of a rooming house with a roommate who he would kill six months later.

There was no dispute Cong killed San Tai Yuan.

Cong was in his bedroom on Sept. 14, 2014, when he got up, grabbed a meat cleaver and attacked Yuan in their shared kitchen, according to court records. He said he had the paranoid belief his roommate intended to hurt him or his mother.

Their landlady came to investigate the commotion and called 911. Cong was sitting near Yuan’s body when police arrived.

He had no previous criminal record.

At trial, Cong was found not criminally responsible for second-degree murder on account of mental disorder and detained at a secure forensic psychiatric facility.

Cong told doctors “ghosts” and “spirits” were all around him and controlling him. He was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

On April 9, Cong had the most recent of his annual assessments by the Ontario Review Board to decide whether he posed a threat to the safety of the public and to what degree he must be supervised during his reintegration into the community.

Doctors were pleased with his progress.

A Mandarin-speaking psychiatrist said in 2017 that Cong seemed “genuinely remorseful” for Yuan’s killing. In 2018, doctors said he was “on a positive trajectory.”

But even then, in June 2018, Cong was already saying he wanted to return to China.

His treatment team “would continue to explore that option,” 2018 board documents say. “However, at present the hospital is not recommending travel passes.”

In 2018, doctors were already starting discharge planning and encouraging his integration in the community, including English classes and visits with a Chinese community mental health group.

He was deemed capable of handling his own financial affairs but not capable of making his own treatment decisions.

At his 2019 review, in April, the board noted Cong made “extensive use” of passes into the community on indirect supervision, with no concerning incidents.

“There have been no incidents in the past year of violence towards co-patients or staff, and no aggressive impulsive behaviour.”

The April decision allowed Cong to live in the community in accommodation approved by his treatment team. It is unclear precisely where he was living.

There is no mention of Cong having travel documents or any concern over whether travel documents should be withdrawn or confiscated.

In a public statement Wednesday, Toronto Mayor John Tory called the incident “very troubling” and urged everyone involved to work together for answers about how Cong could flee the country.

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Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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