11 July 2024

The trend of fatal shooting sprees in Thailand continued in 2023, with the country’s top luxury shopping mall becoming the latest killing field. Adding to the shock was the young age of the perpetrator, a 14-year-old schoolboy.

The bespectacled teenager’s October 3 rampage through Siam Paragon mall in central Bangkok’s busy shopping area killed three people and injured four others. The victims were tourists and locals going about their normal lives when tragedy struck without warning.

The boy’s crime recalled the carnage caused by an enraged gun-toting soldier at Terminal 21 Korat three years ago – not only because both shootings were at shopping complexes but also because of the grim reality that people who had never made enemies could die in a hail of bullets all the same.

Deadly trend

The cold-blooded murder of strangers perpetrated by the 14-year-old boy continued an appalling series of fatal shooting sprees that started at Terminal 21 Korat Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020. Thailand had never seen such lone-shooter massacres before that date.

Psychiatrists warned the 2020 incident could spawn copycat shootings, and sure enough more followed, with innocent victims targeted every year since 2020. Last year, a former police officer and drug addict went on a rampage in the Northeast province of Nong Bua Lamphu that ended in unthinkable horror when he killed 19 toddlers at a nursery, murdered 16 other people and finally shot himself dead.

This year’s shooting resonated with many people because they realized that they too could fall victim to such a random crime. It was almost unimaginable that Siam Paragon, crowded with well-to-do shoppers and tourists, including royals of other countries, could become a killing field, especially since it sits in the heart of Bangkok just a short walk from Royal Thai Police headquarters.

The Crown Prince of Johor, Malaysia, said he and his family were in the lobby of the adjacent luxury hotel when they heard the gunshots from Siam Paragon.

“This is the worst experience I’ve ever gone through,” he said of the incident.

Motive?

The 14-year-old shooter is the child of a university lecturer and has reportedly been struggling with his studies. He was also a dedicated gamer whose other hobby was shooting, which he practiced regularly.

His social media interactions suggested he might have planned the shooting well in advance. Police reportedly said the shooting was triggered by the boy’s mental breakdown after he stopped taking medication for a psychiatric condition.

The boy was sent for a psychiatric assessment and treatment. In line with protocol, the results of his psychiatric tests were not made public.

Police also interrogated the boy, who has denied the charge of murder and only admitted to having weapons in his possession.

Aftermath

Siam Paragon offered financial compensation to victims of the shooting, providing 5 million baht to each bereaved family, and 300,000 baht to each person injured in the shooting. It quickly resumed normal operations.

However, if it is to halt this horrific trend, Thailand must learn lessons from the shooting. While it may not be possible to prevent the mental turmoil that turns people into mass killers, curbing their easy access to weapons is well within our reach.

The 14-year-old perpetrator of the Siam Paragon murders was reportedly able to buy his lethal modified BB gun online, with no checks, from an unlicensed dealer.

No surprise, then, that a 2017 global survey estimated there were over 10.34 million guns in the possession of Thai civilians – the equivalent of one deadly weapon for every seven people.

October’s shooting also put the spotlight on the killer’s parents, with many asking whether they had failed to bring up their son properly.

Under Thai law, parents may be held responsible for civil damages caused by their children if evidence suggests they have failed in their duty of care.

By Thai PBS World’s General Desk