BANGKOK (AP) — A teenage boy with a handgun opened fire inside a major shopping mall in the center of Thailand’s capital Tuesday afternoon, killing two people before being apprehended, authorities said.
Police said a suspect was taken into custody less than an hour after the first reported gunshots at the Siam Paragon Mall, one of Bangkok’s biggest and most upscale shopping destinations.
Video uploaded to social media and broadcast on television showed a long-haired teenage boy in the custody of police. Major Thai media said he was 14 years old, though recently appointed police chief Torsak Sukvimol confirmed only that he is a minor and that he had a record of being treated for mental illness. He said police had not yet learned where the suspect obtained his gun.
Torsak said two people had been killed, a visitor from China and a Myanmar national, and five people hurt. Earlier, Yutthana Sretthanan, director of Bangkok’s Erawan Emergency Medical Center, had said three people were killed and six were injured. There was no explanation of the discrepancy, though Yutthana later supported the police numbers.
Police spokesman Archayon Kraithong told reporters the situation was under control at the mall, which sells high-end fashions and luxury cars, and includes a cinema, an aquarium and the attached five-star Siam Kempinski Hotel.
Prime Minister Srettha Thavisin told reporters that he was informed by police that one of the dead was a Chinese tourist about 30 years old.
“I would like to express my deepest condolences to the family of the deceased following the shooting inside Siam Paragon,” Srettha, who took office in August, said in an earlier statement. “I would like to give my moral support to the families of all who died and were injured.”
Gun violence is not uncommon in Thailand, though mass shootings are rare.
The incident happened days before Thais were planning to mark the anniversary of the country’s biggest mass killing by an individual, a grisly gun and knife attack at a rural day care center in a northeastern province that killed 36 people, most of them preschoolers, on Oct. 6, 2022.
Tuesday’s shooting prompted authorities to temporarily shut access to the nearby Siam Square elevated train stop, preventing commuters from exiting as the evening rush hour began and intense rain pounded the city. First responders could be seen entering the mall as sirens wailed outside.
Witnesses said crowds of people scrambled to leave the building, one of several shopping centers in the area popular with tourists and well-heeled Thais alike.
Chinese tourist Liu Shiying told the AP that she saw people running and saying someone had opened fire. She said she heard gunshots and an alarm ringing, and that the lights in the mall went out.
“We’re temporarily hiding. Who dares to go out?” she said while taking cover. She was later able to leave.
Gautam Vora, 45, an Indian national who works in finance in Bangkok, was at the mall with his wife and child. He said it was “quite scary,” even though he was initially unsure whether he had heard gunshots or “somebody playing a hoax with some firecrackers.”
”Everybody was screaming and running,” he said. “There was a lot of chaos and that was almost like a stampede.”
“I don’t think they were well prepared for this,” he added. “I think most of the staff inside the shopping mall were confused and they were running helter-skelter, too.”
Multiple videos uploaded to social media showed people running out of the building, and several showed a person dressed in a baseball cap, dark shirt and camouflage pants inside the mall, holding a handgun. A video believed to be of the shooter after his arrest showed a long-haired boy wearing glasses dressed like that, with an American flag on his cap. Videos and photos also showed the pistol he was said to have been carrying before he was disarmed.
In 2020, a disgruntled soldier opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Gun laws in Thailand are relatively restrictive, but the country nonetheless has one of the highest levels of gun ownership in Asia, according to GunPolicy.org, a research project at Australia’s University of Sydney.
There are about 10 guns per 100 people in Thailand when including those owned illegally, as compared with less than one per 100 in the country’s peaceful Southeast Asian neighbor Malaysia, the project said. Penalties for unlawful possession in Thailand include prison terms from 1 to 10 years and fines up to 20,000 baht ($539).
Critics in Thailand say the registration process for firearms isn’t nearly tough enough.
“The shockingly high rate of gun ownership in Thailand is due to the convenient process of gun permit issuance. It is easy to apply for and get gun permits in Thailand,” Boonwara Sumano, a senior research fellow at Thailand Development Research Institute wrote after last year’s day care center killings.
“Relaxed laws and policies towards guns suggest a high tolerance for gun violence in Thai society,” he added.
Associated Press journalists Penny Yi Wang, Adam Schreck, Grant Peck and Jerry Harmer contributed reporting.