Bud­dhist monk re­calls sol­dier’s shoot­ing ram­page at the tem­ple

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Emily Schmall and Preeyapa T. Khun­song

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, THAI­LAND >> A rogue sol­dier whose ram­page left 29 peo­ple dead and dozens more in­jured in north­east­ern Thai­land ter­ror­ized a Bud­dhist tem­ple on his way to a shop­ping mall where he held peo­ple hostage in a nearly 16-hour siege.

The peace­ful seclu­sion of the Wat Pa Sattharuam for­est monastery was shat­tered Satur­day when the sol­dier from a nearby army base, Sgt. Maj. Jakra­panth Thomma, 31, roared through in a stolen mil­i­tary jeep, fa­tally shoot­ing nine peo­ple.

At the tem­ple com­plex Tues­day, yel­low po­lice tape cor­doned off the road to the back gate with dozens of red cir­cles mark­ing where bul­let cas­ings were found.

The tem­ple com­plex had opened its back gate to devo­tees for Makha Bucha day, a hol­i­day in the Ther­avada Bud­dhist tra­di­tion that hon­ors Bud­dha or­dain­ing some of his early fol­low­ers.

Be­fore Jakra­panth ar­rived at the tem­ple, he had al­ready fa­tally shot his com­mand­ing of­fi­cer and the of­fi­cer’s mother-in-law, ap­par­ently over a land dis­pute, and killed a sol­dier and wounded two other guards to steal weapons from the Su­rathamp­i­thak mil­i­tary camp where he was sta­tioned.

When Phra Manaswin, a 24-year-old monk, saw the mil­i­tary jeep drive past him and heard shots, he ini­tially didn’t think any­thing was amiss. As else­where in pre­dom­i­nantly Bud­dhist Thai­land, the monks and sol­diers have lived peace­ably as neigh­bors for decades. When the com­plex gates were open, sol­diers, like other lo­cal res­i­dents, of­ten drove through, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the short­cut.

“I thought, ‘why would a sol­dier do tar­get prac­tice in­side a tem­ple?’” Manaswin said, not think­ing much of it and turn­ing back to his work sweep­ing the grounds of dead leaves.

But Manaswin then saw the sol­dier park his jeep be­hind a small group of trees, load his weapons and aim at any ve­hi­cle that en­tered the com­plex through the back gate. Jakra­panth’s vic­tims at the tem­ple in­cluded Rachanon Kan­chaname­thi, a 13-year-old boy rid­ing a mo­tor­bike home.

Manaswin said the sol­dier shot at a woman and a child in a sedan, and an SUV full of peo­ple, all of whom were killed ex­cept for the front-seat pas­sen­ger, who was shielded by the driver’s slumped body. Jakra­panth’s reign of ter­ror lasted 10 min­utes, Manaswin said.

An­other monk tak­ing a video of the shoot­ings called po­lice.

The op­er­a­tor said they were aware of a con­fronta­tion be­tween a sol­dier and po­lice.

“Yes, the sol­dier is here! He’s in­side the tem­ple!” the monk replied.

Sam­rit Kuime­un­wai, an 85-year-old nun, said she was with her dogs at her con­crete hut, built 30 years ago by sol­diers from the nearby base, when she heard the clat­ter­ing of bul­lets on her zinc roof. She said Bud­dhist teach­ings helped her to re­main calm.

“When he started fir­ing, I was shocked at first but then I be­came con­scious. Af­ter that, I started to pray ex­tend­ing love and kind­ness. Then I med­i­tated,” she said.

Sam­rit scram­bled to safety at an­other nun’s hut.

When po­lice ar­rived, Jakra­panth met them with heavy fire. Manaswin ran to in­form an­other monk to clear the prayer pav­il­ion where devo­tees were med­i­tat­ing near the front gate, the di­rec­tion the gun­man was head­ing.

Preecha Kit­sanoh, a po­lice vol­un­teer who re­sponded to the shoot­ing, knelt be­fore Manaswin in the med­i­ta­tion pav­il­ion on Mon­day night, thank­ing him for the warn­ing that saved his life.

Kisanoh ran be­hind the front gate’s con­crete pil­lar as Jakra­panth tore through in his jeep, shoot­ing all the way.

“I feel like I died and have been re­born,” he said in tears.

Po­lice Sgt. Maj. Peerasak Wit­thakanok said he rushed to the scene to dis­cover that the gun­man had fled, leav­ing a trail of bod­ies on the road.

Jakra­panth’s ram­page ended early Sun­day at Ter­mi­nal 21 Ko­rat, a sev­en­story shop­ping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima city, when spe­cial forces fa­tally shot him. Bud­dhist monks, who have joined daily vig­ils since the shoot­ings, will lead a prayer cer­e­mony when the mall re­opens Thurs­day.

SAKCHAI LALIT — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bud­dhist nun Sam­rit Kuime­un­wai re­calls de­tails dur­ing an in­ter­view at the scene of the week­end’s mass shoot­ing that par­tially took place at the Wat Pa Sattharuam tem­ple, Tues­day in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thai­land.

GEMUNU AMARAS­INGHE — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Bud­dhist monk Phra Manaswin ges­tures as he ex­plains a shoot­ing ram­page he wit­nessed at Wat Pa Sattharuam Bud­dhist tem­ple in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thai­land.

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