A Thai soldier accused of killing more than 26 people and injuring 57 others in a shooting at a crowded shopping mall has been shot dead by police, bringing an end to a 12-hour manhunt, Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said Sunday.
Military officials announced earlier that the shooter had been killed on Sunday morning. The attacker was “shot dead” at around 9 a.m. local time (9 p.m. ET Saturday), according to officials.
The standoff began on Saturday after the shooter started firing first at a military site and then at the Terminal 21 shopping mall in Thailand's northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province, known as Korat.
Frantic scenes from the mall overnight showed heavily armed Thai soldiers trying to shepherd terrified shoppers out to safety.
News footage from the scene showed people leaving the area in pickup trucks and cars as security forces surrounded the mall.
Prime Minister Prayut confirmed Sunday that the gunman had taken hostages during the standoff but didn't elaborate on how many or what happened to them.
Thai authorities said the attacker was believed to be Army Sub. Lt. Jakrapanth Thomma, an ammunition battalion officer working for the 22nd Ammunition Battalion.
“In general, any military (officer) would be good at guns, but this man certainly has more skills,” defence ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantravanich said.
Speaking to CNN, chief of crime suppression Maj. Gen. Jirapob Puridet said that the gunman was a highly-skilled shooter who had won a number of small shooting competitions.
Jirapob led the team that went inside the building to confront the gunman. “It was almost like a Hollywood action movie shooting scene,” he said.
“At certain points, the gun firing was nonstop.”
According to Jirapob, police tried to negotiate with the gunman at several points, attempting to convince him to give himself up.
Police contacted the gunman's mother from her nearby hometown in neighbouring Chaiyapum province and brought her to an area close to the shopping mall. But Jirapob said her son wouldn't talk to her.
Shooting began after argument
The gunman's motive wasn't immediately clear, military officials said.
According to spokesman Tantravanich, the incident began after the gunman quarrelled with his superior officer on Saturday, eventually shooting and killing him.
He then took his superior's gun and proceeded to shoot his colleagues, Tantravanich said. It wasn't immediately known whether any other military personnel were killed.
The soldier stole more guns, including at least one machine gun, and a military Humvee. Tantravanich could not confirm the number of guns and ammunition taken.
After the shooter left the military base, he drove to the shopping mall and shot civilians along the way, Tantravanich said.
Jirapob told CNN that police decided to shoot to kill because the lives of people trapped inside the mall were at risk.
“We had to make the move of fronting him because people who were trapped inside a freezing room sent messages to us that the oxygen level was very low. And they are suffocating. So we had to risk to front him face to face, otherwise, people who were trapped inside would die.”