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 believed to be 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 merry-go-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.
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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 above-ground 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 250 kilometers (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.