More heroic, selfless scenes from Terminal 21, Korat

No let-up in tales of bravery

Tales of bravery and self-sacrifice continue to emerge from the Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat) shopping mall where a gunman went on a mass-shooting rampage last weekend.

As the Terminal 21 shopping mall re-opened for business on Thursday, shoppers, officials and well-wishers rallied amid the shock, taking part in a morale boosting "Korat Strong Together" event which included a merit-making ceremony involving 219 monks.

Among the visitors were shoppers caught inside the mall last Saturday when gunman Jakrapanth Thomma's killing spree began, making a tentative return to the centre after the tragic episode unfolded to say thanks to those who saved their lives.

The crazed gunman ultimately took 29 lives and left 58 injured, mostly inside the shopping centre, before Jakrapanth's own death on Sunday morning at the hands of security forces.

Even before his death security forces were slowly clearing floors and evacuating stricken shoppers who had taken shelter wherever they could find it when the shots rang out. Referred to as "hostages" in the Thai press, many shoppers caught inside when his early evening rampage began were trapped for hours in darkness, with no food or water, as the gunman moved from floor to floor of the multi-level complex shooting people on sight.

Survivors of the ordeal passed on their thanks to retailers and their staff who opened their doors to give them shelter as the gunman was bearing down. Some brought gifts of food and other items to say thanks to these selfless individuals, many of whose stories are only now being told a week after the tragic events took place.

Among retail outlets to offer shelter to large crowds were a bank, a hairdresser's on the first floor, Foodland and a fitness centre, both on the lower ground floor where police commandos finally cornered Jakrapanth and shot him dead.

Molthiya Daoruang, 30, a staff member of Bangkok Bank, was able to offer shelter to 17 shoppers, first in front of the main counter, and later, after she contacted her boss to seek permission, in the bank vault.

"We were sitting facing each other as there was little space. However, the vault has a CCTV camera so we could keep an eye on activity outside and I made occasional drinking-water runs," she said. "I was just as scared as anyone else, but knew I had to help."

Molthiya Daoruang

Ms Molthiya said she ushered the crowd into the bank about 6pm when shots started ringing out and shoppers were running around looking for somewhere to hide. She closed the shutter doors in front of the bank, which has a clear glass frontage, and doused the lights. She also instructed those inside to put their phones on silent mode, dim the reading light and stay quiet. Security officers were able to escort them out without incident about 11pm. She said she was proud to play her part in offering shelter to anxious shoppers.

A hairdresser on the first floor gave shelter to 20 shoppers, in a storage room, along the sides of the shop, and behind the counter. "The shoppers included parents and a five year-old child who thankfully managed to stay quiet during the ordeal, as crying could have attracted the gunman," said the hairstylist.

She said the owner, model Nana Ribena, called regularly and passed on what she knew to security officers, who were finally able to rescue the group about 11pm.

On Thursday, the first opening day after the tragedy, some of those who took shelter at the hairdresser's returned with gifts of fruit and sweet snacks to say thanks, she said.

Asadakorn Ohmnok

Meanwhile, Asadakorn Ohmnok, a trainer at a fitness centre on the lower ground floor, about 50m from Foodland where the shooter was to take the lives of his final victims, said about 50 shoppers took shelter in the toilets and staffroom when shots started to ring out. The shoppers kept in touch via a Line group once inside while he and a security guard were able to keep an eye on Jakrapanth via a CCTV camera and report his location to police. Security forces finally escorted them out in groups of 15 at a time about 11pm.

Sacrifice in the cooling room

Eight shoppers who took shelter in the refrigerated storeroom at the rear of the Foodland supermarket are hailing the brave actions of a teenager, Atiwat "Dear" Promsuk, 18, for helping save their lives.

Atiwat 'Dear' Promsuk

Dear was among those who took shelter but quickly took on the duty of guarding the cooler door as he tried to keep those inside from danger. He lost his life the next morning when the shooter, looking for somewhere to hide, barged into the cooling area amid a volley of gunfire. Jakrapanth was to die under a hail of bullets by advancing commando forces in the cooler about 9am.

Jakrapanth made straight for Dear, shooting him in the chest after Dear vainly tried to hang on to the door to stop him getting in. Survivors were able to take advantage of the drama to scramble out to safety and say if it wasn't for Dear's willingness to sacrifice himself more lives would have been lost.

A third-year vocational student at Nakhon Ratchasima Technical College, Dear had also found chairs and other heavy objects and put them in front of the door to block Jakrapanth's entry. Earlier, he also offered his T-shirt to a young woman who had been shot in the hand as they fled to the cool room. Despite enduring temperatures of 5ºC during his 14-hour ordeal, the young man kept up his spirits.

His girlfriend, Naen, who was shot in the leg in the escape drama, said she cradled him in her arms after he was shot until he stopped moving, before crawling out of the cool room.

Umakorn Thaimanee, a friend from his hometown of Lam Plai Mat district in Buri Ram, where Dear's funeral was held last week, said the young man, who hoped to be an electrician, kept in touch with his mother and friends via messenger during his ordeal. "He contacted us for the last time at 8.05 am on Feb 9 and said they were running out of air to breathe," he said.

His elder brother, Piyanan, 24, said he told Dear the evening before when his ordeal began to conceal himself well. "At half-past midnight he said he was still safe, and hiding on the LG floor with 10 people," he said.

"About 1am he said the gunman had started shooting again; shortly after 4am I asked how he was doing but Dear did not reply. I heard later that he was dead." Piyanan said he was proud of his younger brother for helping save lives.

Students and teachers last week stood in a ceremony in front of the college flag to honour Dear. His friends and classmates also compiled a music video with images of Dear and posted tributes on social media.

Chalermchai Supanan, deputy head of the college, said Dear was a brave young man prepared to confront death for the sake of others. Dear, he said, came to the province to study but didn't want to be alone so asked his Mum to join him. His mother found a job as a cleaner at Terminal 21 and he would help her after school every evening without any sense of embarrassment, he said.

Naen, his girlfriend, says she and Dear went to the mall that day to watch a movie and were in Foodland when someone called out that a shooting incident was underway.

They looked for a place to hide in the storeroom at the back, and later the refrigerated storage room. He gave up his undershirt to help a staff member, Kannikar "Taem" Kanbanjong, 22, after she was shot in the hand.

Naen said security forces had told them over the phone that when they turned up to rescue them, they would knock six times on the door by way of a signal, and those inside should respond with three knocks of their own.

She said that on Sunday morning someone knocked at the door three times. "We called out, asking if it was the police, and the voice from the other side replied 'No, it's not'. Moments later a volley of gunfire went off and the lights went out before the gunman burst in the door," she said. "After Dear was shot in the chest he tried to crawl away. I held him in an embrace until another volley of gunfire rang out in the darkness. The shooter was standing not far from me; I could see his outline.

"Dear started to grow still and stopped breathing. I decided to crawl slowly out of the cooling room and don't remember when the bullet entered my leg. That's the last thing I remember before security officials took us to shelter," Naen said.

Dear's electrical studies teacher, Natchanan "Ou" Wattanawichian, was also at Terminal 21 that day, and along with 40 other people took shelter in Watsons chemist on the second floor.

"Everyone gathered there after word went out, and someone pulled down the steel shutters. As the noise of gunfire grew closer, we crowded into a storage room at the back. It was standing room only, everyone looking at each other or peering at their phones for the latest news," she said.

"We were stuck there for two hours before being freed about 7pm. I found out later that Dear, who I did not know was at Terminal 21 that day, had died heroically," she said.

Apiksanapa Kanpakwaen

Meanwhile, another tale of bravery has emerged from the cooling room at Foodland when Jakrapanth shot his way in that morning. Mother Apiksanapa Kanpakwaen, 45, shielded her teen daughter with her own body as Jakrapanth sprayed gunfire, saving the girl's life while sacrificing her own.

Her father, Kunpol, grandpa to Athita Dokduang, 17, the young woman whose life was saved by her Mum's selfless actions, said Apiksanapa was a nurse at Maharat Nakhon Ratchasima hospital where his grand-daughter is now being treated for minor injuries sustained in the drama.

When Mr Kunpol spoke to Amarin TV last week, Athita knew her mother had been shot but did not know she had died. She was being kept sedated to help her recover. "However, she kept saying, 'Why did you have to shoot my mum'," he said, referring to the gunman. Mr Kunpol said his daughter was the mainstay of the household. "I want us to meet again in the next life, but for now will look after Athita as her surrogate dad," he said.