BANGKOK (AP) — The teenage boy who allegedly shot two people dead and wounded five others inside a major shopping mall in the center of Thailand’s capital used a mock handgun that had been modified to fire real bullets, police said Wednesday.
The suspect was taken into custody less than an hour after the first gunshots Tuesday afternoon 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 reported he was 14 years old and a student at a prominent private school. Recently appointed Police Chief Torsak Sukvimol confirmed only that he is a minor and had a record of being treated for mental illness.
Assistant National Police Chief Samran Nualma said at a news conference Wednesday that the weapon used was “a plastic gun and adapted to use with real bullets.” It has variously been described as originally intended to fire blanks or BBs.
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Samran said the authorities were looking into the regulation of such items. Mock weapons are popular among military buffs in Thailand and can be freely purchased. Licensing of real guns is restricted and limited to people 20 years or older. The penalty for unlawful possession of a firearm is up to 10 years in prison and a fine of 20,000 baht ($538).
The minister of Tourism and Sports, Sudawan Wangsuppakitkosol, confirmed at the news conference that a Chinese citizen and a Myanmar citizen had died. She said five people were hospitalized — one from China, one from Laos and three Thais — and that several were in critical condition.
“We need to rebuild confidence. We will discuss with the National Police putting safety measures in malls and communities to prevent such incidents,” she said.
Siam Paragon installed metal detectors at its entrances during political tensions several years ago, but recently they have been only casually monitored. Security guards were conducting hand searches of customers’ bags at entrances on Wednesday. Inside, workers were repairing the front of a luxury shop that was apparently damaged by the gunfire.
Thailand is relying on its once-robust tourism industry for a full economic recovery after the coronavirus pandemic. It is especially encouraging visitors from China, who before the pandemic were by far the largest national group. But Chinese social media have lately been filled with warnings about safety in Thailand because of some high-profile crimes and scam operations.
Gun violence is not uncommon in Thailand, though mass shootings are rare.
The incident occurred days before Thais are to mark the anniversary of the country’s biggest mass killing by an individual, a 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.
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 about 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Tuesday’s shooting prompted authorities to temporarily shut access to the nearby Siam Square elevated train stop, preventing commuters from exiting at the key transfer point as the evening rush hour began and intense rain pounded the city.
Although gun laws in Thailand are relatively restrictive, the country 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, including those owned illegally, compared with less than one per 100 in neighboring Malaysia, the project said.
Associated Press journalists Penny Yi Wang, Grant Peck, Tian Macleod Ji and Jintamas Saksornchai contributed reporting.