Hostages at mall among 30 dead as Korat reels from trauma

Thousands gathered Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil in Korat. Photo: Missfhan3631 / Twitter
Thousands gathered Sunday evening for a candlelight vigil in Korat. Photo: Missfhan3631 / Twitter

EOD personnel were sweeping the scene of last night’s carnage for possible explosives Sunday as the full extent of its toll came into focus.

Efforts were still underway to recover the bodies of those killed by a soldier whose mass-shooting rampage began near a Korat military base and ended at a shopping mall where he held security forces off with heavy weapons and an uncertain number of hostages. As of 5:45pm Sunday, the death toll rose to 30, including the gunman. At least 57 people were injured.

The bodies of two hostages, a man and woman, were found next to the gunman’s body. It was not known whether they were killed by the gunman or died during the final shootout with a special forces police unit.

Speaking today, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the gunman, who was stationed at a nearby army base, had a “personal” motive for the attack but did not elaborate. Speculation online from his social media posts pointed to a dispute over a land deal with a relative of his first victim, his commanding officer.

Thai soldier whose rampage killed at least 20 in Korat killed inside mall

The youngest victim was 9. Three police officers were killed: Senior Sgt. Majs. Chatchawal Tangtong and Petchrat Kamjatphai, along with Capt. Trakul Ta-arsa, who died during the final assault that killed the gunman at about 9am.

The dead also included a 13-year-old boy, a college student, motorbike taxi driver and security guard.

Sgt. Jakrapanth Thomma brought terror in a language and form that has grown familiar since the New Zealand mosque massacre one year ago. He live streamed his attack and posted regularly on social media. That he seemed to feed off the attention led to criticism of the media covering the event as it unfolded.

Some news outlets were especially targeted for their insensitive handling of witnesses and families of the slain, such as Amarin TV’s decision to interview a family who’d just lost someone and Thairath TV’s rush to link his actions to video games.

Mass shootings have not been common in Thailand, and Prayuth said at Sunday’s news conference that he wants this to be “the last time.”

Mental health officials advised the public to minimize news consumption and avoid watching the many violent videos coursing through the digital sphere. Anyone struggling with mental or emotional difficulty was urged to call the Mental Health Department hotline 1323.

Messages of condolence and anguish were streaming across social media, largely under the hashtag #MassShootinginKorat and #SaveKorat. Many criticized Prayuth, who became prime minister last year after seizing power six years ago in a coup, for maintaining his characteristic irascible and brusque demeanor at a time of national grief. His departure from the scene, scowling as he made a “miniheart” gesture popularized by Korean pop culture, was widely mocked and sent #RIPPrayuth to trend atop Thai Twitter.


Holy Day

Saturday was a full moon, the third of the lunar year, when the Buddhist holiday of Makha Bucha is celebrated in Southeast Asia. At around 3pm Saturday, the gunman shot and killed his commanding officer, Gen. Anantarot Krasae and Krasae’s mother-in-law Anong Mitrchan at a private residence near the base. Anantorat and Anong died immediately at the scene. At the home, he also shot a man named Pittaya Kaewprom, who survived his injuries.

At around 4pm, he went onto the base and stole a number of heavy weapons from the armory, shooting security guard Metha Lertsiri to death in the process. He then escaped in a stolen Humvee with the cache of weapons including a machine gun, two rifles and more than 700 rounds of ammunition.

His rampage picked up steam on the streets. He indiscriminately fired at people he passed, killing two police officers and two civilians. At around 5:45pm he fled into the complex of the Terminal 21 Korat shopping mall, the sister mall of one of Bangkok’s large retail palaces.

The mall was soon a scene of pandemonium. He set a fuel tank ablaze and made a terrifying entrance, opening up fusillades of gunfire and sending people running in terror. He continued to fire on people gathered at the crowded mall on a busy Saturday holiday – also a Buddhist holiday – killing several shoppers at the scene, including a motorbike taxi driver and a student.

Facebook took his account offline at about 7pm and the authorities urged members of the public and media not to post live information from outside the mall as he seemed to be anticipating their moves, even shooting multiple police drones surveilling the scene.

Just before 8pm, he was said to have taken upward of 14 hostages. Sporadic gunfire continued throughout the night as special forces secured portions of the mall, freeing trapped civilians. But the hostage situation complicated matters, and officers held off on a final assault until after a group was freed just before 7am.

The legs of personnel from a special unit called “Hanuman” were seen sticking into a hallway before opening fire in a final furious burst of gunfire in a video clip said to be when he was killed.

A candlelight vigil will be held at 7pm this evening at Korat’s Thao Suranari Monument, a beloved landmark to a historical heroine in the heart of the city.

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