Saturday September 25, 2021

Guns, social media: the soldier behind Thailand’s mass shooting

AFP
February 11, 2020

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand: The ‘pings’ from the metal targets at a gun range ring out as a baby-faced shooter smiles for the camera — a chilling prelude to the mall massacre by a Thai soldier who shared his prowess as a marksman on social media.

But more than a day after he was shot dead following a near 17-hour shooting spree that killed 29 people and left dozens more wounded, the killer — Jakrapanth Thomma — remains something of an enigma. The Thai army, powerful yet reliant on conscripts and the projection of discipline, has released few details about the 31-year-old, blaming his meltdown on a “personal dispute” over debt.

“He didn’t have a bad record, only this time,” army spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree told AFP. Even Thailand’s gossip-prone local media has so far shied away from sharing rumours about him, while Facebook was swift to shut down his account as the shooting unfolded.

What is known is the gunman was a Sargeant-Major from Chaiyaphum province with a penchant for posting photos and videos with weapons and combat gear on Facebook — a social media obsessive with no filter for his love of guns. One photo has the caption “Call of Duty” — the name of a popular immersive first-person shooter game — while another is of a revolver with a Buddhist amulet wrapped around it. After graduating from high school, Jakrapanth joined the Surathampitak military camp in the northeastern city of Korat, officially known as Nakhon Ratchasima. On Saturday he went on a rampage, turning the city into an urban warzone and chronicling the carnage in live Facebook updates that drew comparisons with the 2019 attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.