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‘Do Not Make Any Loud Noises’: A Thai Soldier’s 18-Hour Shooting Rampage


KORAT, Thailand — The authorities killed the gunman near the cold storage refrigerators of the Foodland supermarket in the mall he terrorized during Thailand’s deadliest mass shooting.

It was just before 9 local time on Sunday morning — 18 hours after he fired the first shots in a relentless spree that left at least 29 people dead and 58 injured in the city of Korat, north of Bangkok.

Thailand’s prime minister said the rampage started with a real estate dispute. The gunman was bitter and lugging weapons stolen from a military base. It ended with hundreds of shoppers fleeing for their lives, their shoes slapping on the mall’s white tile floors as gunshots cracked, leading to a failed police raid, a follow-up — and finally, the lifeless body of the 32-year-old gunman, dressed in military gear and surrounded by red plastic grocery bins.

“My two children are at home with their grandma now,” said Viparat Wansaboiy, who was watching a movie at the mall with her husband when the shooting broke out. “Luckily they didn’t come today.”

The mix of bloodshed and the banal has become all too common in the United States, even as it bursts into lands less accustomed to violence like New Zealand and Norway. In a sign of what some psychologists call a contagion, the gunman mimicked other perpetrators of mass shootings by posting messages and video to Facebook, which shut down his account within minutes.

But in a nation where mass killings are still rare despite high levels of gun ownership, the sudden appearance of such grisly horror in a seven-story complex of consumerism has already prompted deeper questions about what happened, the government’s response and the underlying forces that led a young man to kill so many who were so innocent.

“This will be seen as not just an individual case, but as a sign of underlying tensions,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division. “It’s about the fact that people are really getting desperate — the economic situation is really not going well. A lot of people are very unhappy.”

Thai officials initially said the man, Sgt. Jakkrapanth Thomma, simply “went mad.” Later, on Sunday morning, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha suggested that the gunman was enraged over a “land problem,” citing a dispute about selling a house. It was a conflict, he said, that had been simmering for days and could have been resolved without violence.

Korat, a bustling city of 166,000 between the central plains and Thailand’s underdeveloped northeast, is supposed to be where people come together. Sitting on the so-called Friendship Highway originally built by the United States in the 1950s, the unassuming city is a strategic hub for both the Thai military, which has several bases in the area, and regional agriculture, with processing plants for rice, sugar cane, sesame and fruit.

Sergeant Jakkrapanth believed he was owed money. On Saturday, he arrived for a meeting about a payment from a deal with Anong Mitrchan, who was well known for selling real estate to military officers in Korat.

It is unclear whether she was the target of his ire, or whether she did anything wrong. But she was at the center of a long-running dispute, the authorities said, and she was not alone. Her son-in-law, a superior officer from the sergeant’s command — Col. Anantharot Krasae — was there at her house, along with her business partner, according to Mrs. Anong’s husband.

The soldier shot all three of them. Only the partner survived, with serious wounds.

After the initial surge of violence, a photo of bullets appeared on the soldier’s Facebook page. “Nobody can escape death,” he wrote. “Rich from cheating and taking advantage of people … Do they think they can take money to spend in hell?”

Sergeant Jakkrapanth fled, speeding toward a military base where the authorities said he shot and killed a third person before stealing a military Humvee and an arsenal of weapons. Firing out the window, he reached the parking lot of the Terminal 21 shopping center some time after 3 p.m., around the time the police received their first call about the shooting at Mrs. Anong’s house.

The mall — a tower of exuberance, with floors dedicated to different parts of the world, from the Caribbean to London, Paris and Hollywood — pulsed with the rhythm of a busy Saturday. Movie theaters were filled. Families, couples, teenagers were all oblivious, crammed into cellphone stores, Toys “R” Us and the food court.

Then, they heard gunshots. Video taken outside showed people diving for cover as bullets carried across the area. Several people were killed outside the mall, some while walking, others in cars.

It wasn’t clear to everyone what was going on. Kul Kaemthong, 53, a cleaner, said she was on a break around 5 p.m. when she first heard people had been shot. Looking out the windows of the fourth floor food court, she saw a body next to motorcycle, another by a car.

She started running. Then she heard more gunfire.

The sound — one, two, three, then a dozen in rapid succession, also heard in at least one video from the scene — suggested heavy firepower and more than one gun.

Mike Picard, the research director for GunPolicy.org, which tracks firearm use around the world, said the images and sounds captured by people at the scene pointed to at least six weapons: one or two handguns, including the shooter’s personal firearm, three HK33 assault rifles and two larger M60 machine guns.

The gunman, he said, also appears to have been carrying about 1,000 rounds of ammunition. Local news media reported Sergeant Jakkrapanth was a specialist in long-range sniper fire.

Ms. Viparat, 39, and her husband, Somwang Kwangchaithale, 39, were sitting in a movie theater on the fifth floor of the mall when the lights came on and an emergency announcement came over the loudspeaker t around 5:30 p.m. Initially, they stayed in the theater. Then the mall’s staff moved them to an office with a locked door. They huddled together there, 100 of them all together, until around 10 p.m., when the message from the authorities landed: They were about to be evacuated.

“They told us they’re going to turn the lights off, said Mr. Somwang. “‘Stay low and do not make any loud noises.’”

When they reached the basement, the gunman heard them. He started shooting.

“All of the people who gathered at the parking lot started screaming and running for their lives,” said Ms. Viparat. “Rescuers helped us out. Police, rescuers, military, different officers.”

By that time, the authorities had launched into full operation mode. Shortly after 8 p.m., the police declared the gunman a most-wanted person and urged the public to call in tips, presenting a photo that showed him looking bored, with indifferent eyes.

They also started moving large numbers of people out. They urged evacuees to “raise their hands” and identify themselves. They were wary that the gunman was hiding in the crowd.

Outside, dozens of orange-clad emergency workers set up triage areas, helping victims and the rescued. Relatives and friends of those believed to be trapped in the mall anxiously awaited word of their fate. The stalemate lingered for hours. The entire city seemed to be awake.

At 3 a.m., the authorities staged what appeared to be an attempt to capture or kill the gunman. A barrage of gunfire pounded and ricocheted, but the authorities had to retreat. An officer had been hit. He later died. One official said he was the last one killed — shy of the gunman.

The final raid occurred as officials seemed to be in lockdown, tense, refusing to answer questions from reporters. Details eventually came out through a video posted to Twitter, with officials confirming what people inside had witnessed. The gunman was dead, his body lying outside a cooler with an open door, near two other bodies — one of them a police officer; another a woman who seemed to be a supermarket employee.

Prime Minister Prayuth sounded defensive when asked about the operation and why it had taken so long for the siege to end.

“Don’t you guys understand when there are civilians in the mall,” he said. Without evidence, he suggested that the gunman had been troubled for a long time.

“We have to look at mental health,” he added. “I was an army chief before. And we have to acknowledge if they have problems.”

But for those who experienced the attack, his mental health mattered far less than the lives of his victims. In the elevator at the Maharaj hospital, a young woman sobbed as she spoke on the phone about a relative on life support.

On Sunday evening, hundreds gathered near the mall for a vigil, lining up to write tributes to the dead and to express support for peace and the living — a ritual as familiar, sadly, as the mass shootings.

“The society nowadays has turned into this?” said Thusanee Witchartorntakul, 53, a university lecturer, who came to the vigil on Sunday night, shedding tears after a night without sleep. “It’s devastating. My heart can’t handle it.”

Muktita Suhartono reported from Korat, Thailand, and Damien Cave from Sydney, Australia. Ryn Jirenuwat contributed reporting from Bangkok, and Richard C. Paddock from Denpasar, Indonesia.

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