A 14-year-old with a gun opened fire in a luxury shopping mall in downtown Bangkok on Tuesday, the authorities said, killing two people and injuring five in one of Thailand’s most popular tourist destinations.
The shooting started around 4:20 p.m. in the Siam Paragon mall, according to Bangkok police. The suspect was arrested within the hour, according to the force’s metropolitan bureau. The Erawan Center, a Bangkok emergency response center, provided the casualty count.
On social media, witnesses uploaded videos of people fleeing the mall and others screaming as gunshots were heard. Other video clips showed the injured being taken away in an ambulance.
The slayings have left the country in shock, offering a stark reminder that nowhere in Thailand was safe from gun violence. The country has one of the highest gun ownership and gun homicide rates in Southeast Asia, but most of the high-profile incidents so far have involved personal disputes and are often perpetrated by former army or police officers who can buy their weapons at a steep discount from the government. Gun violence is also higher in the south, where Muslim insurgents are battling the authorities.
Mass shootings are still very rare, especially one committed by a civilian in the heart of downtown Bangkok.
During a news conference, Police Gen. Torsak Sukwimon, said the two victims were a Chinese woman and a Myanmar national.
General Torsak said the suspect, who turned 14 in September, has a history of mental illness. He said that the teenager has been receiving treatment in a hospital but had not taken his medication.
“He felt that someone told him to shoot this and that person,” General Torsak said. “It’s like he has another ‘him.’”
General Torsak said the suspect used a “blank gun,” a weapon that looks like the real weapon but is not supposed to fire live ammunition. But he said the police still had no idea where the gun came from because the suspect struggled to speak clearly. “We cannot question him at the moment yet. He is still zoned out. And we have to wait for his parents to be present,” he said.
Surveillance footage showed the suspect holding his hands in the air as two SWAT officers broke the window of the room where he was standing. A video of the suspect in police custody showed a bespectacled teenager dressed in a cap with an American flag, wearing a black polo T-shirt and shorts with blood spatter on them.
Jittrakorn Tunho, 24, a student at Chulalongkorn University, said he had arrived at the Siam stop of the train station that linked to Siam Paragon when he saw people rushing out from the mall.
“People were saying: ‘Oh my god, there’s been a shooting.’ Everything was so chaotic,” said Mr. Jittakorn in a telephone interview. “I heard a loud bang. You could see panic everywhere.”
As darkness fell on Tuesday, Siam Paragon, situated opposite the headquarters of the Royal Thai Police, remained sealed off. The mall, popular among tourists and locals, is home to luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton and Jimmy Choo and the Sea Life Bangkok Ocean World, Southeast Asia’s largest aquarium. The shooting prompted the authorities to seal off the entrance connecting the train station linked to the mall.
The attack occurred almost exactly a year after a former police officer armed with a handgun and a knife went on a rampage in a day-care center in northeastern Thailand, killing 36 people, 24 of them children. It was the worst mass shooting by a sole perpetrator in Thailand’s history, prompting a debate about whether gun laws should be tightened in the country. But there have been no large-scale reforms.
Thailand has a slew of gun regulations that, in theory, would make gun ownership difficult. Would-be buyers must be older than 20, undergo a background check and provide a reason for ownership. Guns can only be purchased from a limited number of firearms dealers and require a permit that costs more than $1,000.
But there is a thriving black market in guns. Of the estimated 7.2 million firearms in circulation in Thailand, only 6 million are registered, according to GunPolicy.org, a database run by the University of Sydney. That leaves 1.2 million guns unaccounted for.
At the same time, Thailand also lacks mental health services for the young. An estimated one in seven adolescents ages 10-19 and one in 14 children ages 5-9 have mental health disorders in Thailand, according to a UNICEF-led 2022 study on adolescent mental health.
Millions of children struggle with depression and anxiety, exacerbated by bullying, loneliness and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, UNICEF said. But these issues are often not addressed because of stigma and the lack of access to appropriate services. The government does not devote enough money to mental health and there are insufficient psychiatrists in the country.
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