14 students dead this year as Thai courts push to eliminate street shootings

14 students dead this year as Thai courts push to eliminate street shootings
PHOTO: AFP

Shootouts among gun-totting vocational college students, which have led to many young lives being taken prematurely, have shed light on the availability of firearms in Bangkok.

The severity of these violent exchanges have often depended on the type of weapons used, the number of students involved and the police response time, said Maj-General Chanthawit Ramasut, deputy chief of the Metropolitan Police.

The youths' ability to get access to guns - illegally purchased or home-made - was a major factor in student violence.

An 18-year-old student told police, "we just learned how to create a makeshift gun from metal pipes and other available components from senior students."

Technical students knew how to make such weapons and many made their own guns. Others received guns that were passed on from one generation to another and some just bought guns on the black market or on the Internet, he said.

"Sometimes you can buy old guns from senior students at Bt800 (S$32)-Bt900 apiece," he said.

"It is for self-defence. If we don't attack them, they attack us anyway," the teen said.

Pol Lt-General Prawut Thavornsiri, assistant police chief and police spokesman, said gun-related violence among youths - including those committed by the young or those victimised by the young - is on the rise.

The police have joined forces with the Children's and Juvenile Court to push the matter as a national agenda to establish a steering committee, chaired by the prime minister, to help solve the problem, he added.

According to police, almost 100,000 illegal guns are in circulation in Thailand, excluding newly-made guns.

It is no surprise then that so many students can get their hands on guns.

The first eight months of this year has already seen 33 incidents of student violence, resulting in 14 deaths and 19 injuries; while 36 students have been arrested and prosecuted, ruining their future prospects.

For the families of those killed, the grief was unbearable.

"My son knew that being a vocational college student was risky. He wasn't a wayward child, but a studious person who worked at a part-time job in hopes for a better future. Before he was shot dead, he was about to buy a car because using a motorcycle made him an easier target for rival students.

"I'm devastated by this loss. I wish it happened to me instead of my son. I want my boy back. My heart shattered in pieces like I'm dead too. Now I'm just trying to get by and pray for his peace after life," said a mother who lost her 17-year-old son, a freshman at a Bang Kapi college.

Her husband recalled the moment he heard his son was shot on Ramkhamhaeng Road. "It was like thunder struck my forehead, I prayed he was wounded, not dead. We were told that his heart stopped beating before he reached a doctor," he said. The helplessness of not being able to save him or do something about the murder "felt like death to a father", he said.

Such tragedy was repeated in similar tales of college students killed in brawls or attacks from rivals. Less than a month after this 17-year-old student's death, another Min Buri college student, 18, was shot dead on Ram Inthra Road, leaving his family to grieve.

The most cited reason for attacks was "conflict between rival colleges", Chanthawit said. Bangkok has 13 such "rival colleges" mostly located in Min Buri, Ram-Indra, Hua Mak and Bang Kapi. "Most incidents stemmed from expelled seniors inviting younger schoolmates to fight others," he said, adding most incidents took place from 3pm to 7pm.

The most risky places were shopping malls or Phaholyothin, Sukhumvit, Lat Phrao, Ramkha-mhaeng, Ram-Indra and Seri Thai roads, which run past the colleges in question.

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