Shop­pers trapped with shooter in Thai mall; 20 dead

The News & Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY SAKCHAI LALIT AND TASSANEE VEJPONGSA

A gun­man de­scribed as a sol­dier an­gry over a fi­nan­cial dis­pute killed two peo­ple and then went on a far blood­ier ram­page Satur­day in north­east­ern Thai­land, shoot­ing as he drove to a busy mall where shop­pers fled in ter­ror.

At least 20 peo­ple were killed in all, 31 were in­jured and oth­ers were still in­side the build­ing as more gun­shots rang out early Sun­day.

De­fense Min­istry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawani­ch said Sgt. Jakra­panth Thomma was be­hind the at­tack in Nakhon Ratchasima, a hub for Thai­land’s rel­a­tively poorer and ru­ral north­east­ern re­gion. Much of the shoot­ing took place at Ter­mi­nal 21 Ko­rat, an air­port-themed mall filled with col­or­ful Lego sculp­tures, a mer­rygo-round and huge repli­cas of land­marks from around the world.

Video taken out­side the mall showed peo­ple div­ing for cover as shots rang out mid-af­ter­noon Satur­day. Many were killed out­side the mall, some in cars, oth­ers while walk­ing.

Nat­taya Nganiem and her fam­ily had just fin­ished eat­ing and were driv­ing away when she heard gun­fire.

“First I saw a woman run out from the mall hys­ter­i­cally,” said Nat­taya, who shot video of the scene on her phone. “Then a mo­tor­cy­cle rider in front of her just ran and left his mo­tor­cy­cle there.”

Pub­lic Health Min­is­ter Anutin Charn­vi­rakul said a doc­tor was shot while help­ing an in­jured per­son.

Hun­dreds of peo­ple were evac­u­ated from the mall in small batches by po­lice while they searched for the gun­man.

“We were scared and ran to hide in toi­lets,” said Su­mana Jeer­awat­tana­suk, one of those res­cued by po­lice. She said seven or eight peo­ple hid in the same room as her.

“I am so glad. I was so scared of get­ting hurt,” she said.

Shortly be­fore mid­night, po­lice an­nounced they had se­cured the above­ground por­tion of the mall, but were still search­ing for the shooter. Anutin said there were no more bod­ies left in­side, but added, “we don’t know whether there are any ad­di­tional in­juries or deaths or not.”

Some shop­pers re­mained trapped in the mall, pre­sum­ably in the be­low-ground por­tion.

“We are wor­ried for those who are still trapped in­side. Some still couldn’t come out,” Lt. Col. Poon­sap Prasert­sak, a se­nior po­lice com­man­der for the re­gion, said early Sun­day morn­ing. He told re­porters po­lice were in touch with some of those still trapped.

“We told them to stay calm, stay still and keep their heads down,” he said.

Gun­fire could be heard com­ing from the mall around 3 a.m. as am­bu­lances were brought closer to the scene, but re­porters were kept away and no an­nounce­ments were im­me­di­ately forth­com­ing.

A po­lice of­fi­cer con­tacted by phone in Nakhon Ratchasima, about 155 miles north­east of Bangkok, said the gun­man ini­tially killed an­other sol­dier and a woman, and wounded a third per­son, ap­par­ently over a land dis­pute.

De­fense Min­istry spokesman Kongcheep told Thai me­dia that the first per­son killed was the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the 22nd Am­mu­ni­tion Bat­tal­ion, in which the sus­pect also served. He said the gun­man had fired at oth­ers at his base and took guns and am­mu­ni­tion be­fore flee­ing in an army Humvee.

City and neigh­bor­hood po­lice of­fi­cers, who asked not to be iden­ti­fied be­cause they were not au­tho­rized to re­lease in­for­ma­tion, said the man fired shots as he drove to the mall.

SAKCHAI LALITKANJA­NAKUL AP

Peo­ple who were able to get out of Ter­mi­nal 21 Ko­rat mall early Sun­day are es­corted out­side by armed com­mando sol­diers in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thai­land. A gun­man who killed at least 20 peo­ple was still at large.

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