BANGKOK: Authorities in Thailand were preparing to charge a 14-year-old boy with premeditated murder today after a shooting spree at a Bangkok mall using what police said was a modified pistol intended to fire blanks.
The suspect had suffered a psychological breakdown in the run-up to the shooting at the luxurious Siam Paragon shopping centre yesterday in which two foreigners were killed, police said, the latest gun violence to shock Thailand in the past three years.
Chaos erupted late in the afternoon close to peak hours at the mall in Bangkok’s bustling commercial heart, with hundreds of panicked shoppers fleeing, some screaming as gunshots rang out. A Chinese and Myanmar national were killed and five people were wounded.
The suspect surrendered after police cornered him in a designer furniture shop. Police said they were seeking to charge him with premeditated murder, attempted murder, possession of an illegal firearm, and for using it in a public space.
“We still cannot get a statement out of him because the doctor said he had a psychological problem,” major General Nakarin Sukhontawit told Reuters.
Mass shootings are rare in Thailand but gun violence and gun ownership is common. Ownership rules are strict, but firearms can be modified and obtained illegally, with many being smuggled from abroad.
Police said the boy had adapted a widely-sold gun meant to fire blanks.
Voice ‘told him to shoot’
The violence came three days after the first death anniversary of 35 people, including 22 children at a nursery in a northeast Thai town, during an hours-long gun-and-knife attack by a former policeman who later shot himself dead.
In 2020, a soldier shot and killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations around the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima.
Instagram’s most photographed place in 2013, Siam Paragon is Thailand’s most famous mall, drawing throngs of domestic and foreign shoppers daily to its high-end stores, aquarium, cinema, and food court dining.
Today, flowers were left in front of the mall as it reopened for business, with workers seen replacing the shattered facade of a Louis Vuitton store.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin attended a technology event at the mall and told reporters access to guns, including ones that can be modified, was something his government would address with the Thai police.
“They can buy from online, therefore we need to be more restrictive in young people’s access to these dangerous things,” Srettha said.
“We will work through the policy process by controlling guns and making them harder to access.”
The shooting came as Srettha’s new government tries to stimulate a stuttering economy by boosting tourist arrivals in what is one of Asia’s most popular travel spots, including by offering visa-free entry to citizens of China, a crucial market for Thailand.
China’s embassy in Bangkok said Srettha had called its ambassador and pledged to “strengthen public safety management to offer a reliable and safe environment for Chinese people travelling to Thailand”.
National police chief Torsak Sukvimol said the suspected gunman had been receiving psychological treatment and had not taken his prescribed medication when he embarked on the shooting.
Investigators were looking into his background and planned to speak to friends, including some online gamers, about his mental state.
“We will have to investigate the suspect as to whether he had violent and aggressive conduct before,” said Torsak, who met the boy soon after the shooting.
“Initially I spoke to him to calm him down…he appeared to hear someone speaking to him, he was hearing things, a noise he said told him to shoot,” he told media.