Soldier refuses to answer questions in shooting spree probe

June 26, 2014
The suspect, seen here being transported, has refused to answer any questions about the shooting spree. (Yonhap)

The suspect, seen here being transported, has refused to answer any questions about the shooting spree. (Yonhap)

SEOUL/GANGNEUNG/SEONGNAM (Yonhap) — An enlisted soldier who went on a shooting rampage last week has refused to answer questions from military investigators about the deadly incident, a defense ministry official said Thursday.

On Saturday, the 22-year-old sergeant, identified only by his surname Lim, detonated a grenade and shot at his comrades with his K-2 rifle at a front-line outpost, killing five and wounding seven others. He fled following the shooting spree and was captured two days later after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

“Lim said he did not remember anything when he faced questioning by military investigators on Wednesday,” said the official, requesting anonymity. “As he refuses to speak, the investigation may drag on.”

After undergoing surgery at Asan Hospital in Gangneung, some 240 kilometers east of Seoul, on Monday for a self-inflicted gunshot wound, he was transferred Thursday to a military hospital in the city.

The military police are expected to further question him in consultation with his doctor, but his refusal to speak may delay efforts to establish the truth, Army officials said. He was to be discharged in September this year.

Though what prompted him to go on the shooting spree is not known, officials said he had difficulty in adapting to military life and had not associated much with his colleagues, suggesting that bulling may be one of the reasons for the shooting rampage. He was to be discharged in September.

Testifying before lawmakers on Wednesday, Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin also said bullying exists in the barracks, lending weight to the suggestion.

Enraged by Kim’s remarks and the government’s alleged failure to appropriately deal with the incident, the families of the dead soldiers on Thursday said they have decided to halt proceedings for a joint funeral ceremony slated for Friday.

“What the defense ministry and the military have been doing with regard to this incident infuriates us … We will put off the funeral process indefinitely until the truth behind the incident is brought to light and the authorities take responsible steps,” the families of the victims said during a press conference.

Pointing to the fact that the deaths of some of the fallen soldiers were caused not by their immediate gunshot wounds but heavy blood loss, they accused the military of failing to provide necessary first aid.

“Witnessing the government’s poor management of draftees, we even feel sympathy to Sgt. Lim,” they said, appealing for the public to support them.

Lim had been on the list of soldiers requiring extra care after undergoing personality tests. Although he had been classified as an Class-A soldier, which had banned him from frontline duties, he was later classified as Class-B, which meant he still required special attention but was capable of carrying out normal duties.

They also complaint about the results of their one-and-a-half-hour meeting with the defense chief.

“We told the defense minister what we need, but we did not get any satisfactory answers from him,” a family member of a killed sergeant said. “Nothing has changed since the sinking of the ferry Sewol although the president pledged to come up with fundamental safety measures.”

They insisted that the defense minister tried to divert the government’s responsibility by suggesting that the victims might have been involved in the suspected bullying.

During the meeting, which was arranged at the request of the families, Kim apologized “for causing the misunderstanding,” according to a defense ministry official.

“Bullying can take place in an Army unit. I did not mean to point to the 22nd division where the tragedy took place,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official.

The families also claimed that the government lied about its decision not to reveal a memo written by Lim shortly before his suicide attempt. The defense ministry had planned to disclose the note but reversed its decision, citing “strong opposition from the families of the victims.”

Lim said in the memo, “Anyone would be in distress if they were in the situation I was in,” according to an Army source. Defense ministry spokesman Kim Min-seok said he apologized to his family and the families of the victims, while voicing regret over what he had done.