It is difficult to describe the events that transpired in Korat today. A reprehensible and senseless act, the tragedy took the lives of ordinary people for a reason none can ascertain. The crime is without precedent in living memory: that a sergeant would steal from his armory, kill his commanding officer and then rampage through a shopping mall.
It was, in short, a shocking day.
It was shocking because it happened at all. Thailand is not a country used to mass shootings. That there has been two in rapid succession this year — last month, a robber in Lopburi killed three and wounded four — has dealt a blow to the national psyche.
It was shocking because it was perpetrated by a member of the armed forces. Varied opinion may be on the military and its involvement in politics, most Thais hold in respect those who put their lives on the line of duty. ‘Rua kong chart‘, Thais call the army — “the nation’s walls”, servicemen who hold weapons in defense of the nation. That one of them instead aimed those weapons at his fellow citizens was an unthinkable act.
It was shocking because it happened on Maka Bucha Day, one of the holiest of Buddhist holidays in Thailand. It was an act that would have felt sacrilegious to many Thais, creating a day where, as some on Twitter wrote, the sound of crying was louder than prayer.
Yet we must not let this shock get the better of us when we come to take stock of the lessons we must draw from this tragedy. Some conclusions we can draw quickly; the Thai media, for example, must simply do better in how it approaches victims and reporting with factual accuracy. Wassana Nanuam needs to stop treating news reporting like a soap opera.
But in other cases, it is not helpful to draw conclusions with haste.
Many will raise, for example, the issue of gun control. Thailand has a level of gun control but still struggles with illicit guns. But this is, in my opinion, besides the point, because this was perpetrated by someone in the army who seemed to have easy access to firearms. Why was it so easy for an individual soldier to take weapons from an armory? Was this an isolated incident?
Others will also point to the need for greater awareness of mental illness and call on the government to invest more resources into uplifting mental health. It would always be welcome for mental health to receive the attention it needs. But the truth is that very little is known about the link between mental health and mass shootings.
Inevitably, some have already politicized this tragedy to attack the government and the military on social media. This is unfair. Reports so far show that the government responded quickly and effectively in protecting those in the area. Within hours, both army commander General Apirat Kongsompong and Deputy Prime Minister Anutin Charnvirakul were in Korat. The government, as beset by problems big and small as it is, can be spared the blame on this individual incident.
These matters are for later. Today, we stand in heartfelt solidarity with the victims and thank the officers and first responders who are bringing the situation under control. I hope, as many others will be doing, for a speedy resolution.
(Edit 9 AM: The mass shooter has been shot dead, per Khaosod English).