Top military officers salute during the funeral at a military hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Wednesday for the four Marines killed in Monday’s shooting rampage. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
Bodies of four soldiers laid to rest at Daejeon National Cemetery
Military investigators on Wednesday morning arrested a Marine private first class on charges of complicity in Monday’s shooting rampage that left four soldiers dead, officials said.
But the 20-year-old soldier, only identified by his surname Jeong, denies that he joined in any criminal activities with the corporal who opened fire with his rifle inside a barrack of the Marine Second Division on Ganghwa Island off the west coast.
The 19-year-old corporal, surnamed Kim, is now being treated for multiple injuries he sustained after detonating a hand grenade in an apparent suicide attempt. He has indicated that bullying at the unit prompted him to go on the rampage.
“We arrested Jeong at around 1 a.m. on charges of complicity. Currently, he claims that he did not participate in any criminal activities,” Navy Cdr. Kim Young-su, a senior military investigator, told reporters.
“The two said that (before the shooting) they agreed to stop beatings in the unit, make trouble and run away. But Jeong denies his involvement in the shooting. Kim claims he stole the rifle and bullets from an ammunition storage facility together with Jeong.”
Military investigators stressed that their probe into the case was proceeding very slowly due to Kim’s health condition.
“Kim suffered multiple injuries all over his body and has just had a tube removed from his airway. He is currently unaware of the death of his fellow soldiers and remains very nervous and fearful,” the investigator said.
“Kim’s statements were also inconsistent. So, we need to continue investigating him. We now leave open all possibilities including the possibility of another accomplice in the shooting.”
Jeong joined the Marine unit in April and has been classified as a “soldier that needs special attention” since he was one of the lowest-ranking soldiers, officials said.
“Jeong thought that he was being harassed (by fellow soldiers). He was a close friend of Kim,” said Defense Ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok.
The military investigator also said that Kim appears to have bought alcoholic beverages at a nearby store a day before the shooting. Witnesses said that Kim was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the shooting.
A joint ceremony to send off the dead was held at a military hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. It was attended by some 500 people including Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Kim Sung-chan and Marine Corps Commander Lieut. Gen. Yoo Nak-jun.
“I extend my deep apology for failing to understand the minds of the Marine troops and prevent such an incident. I will try my utmost to prevent the repeat of the case in which fellow soldiers hurt one another,” Yoo said during the ceremony.
The bodies of the four soldiers were laid to rest at Daejeon National Cemetery.
Meanwhile, an appellate court ruling last month in favor of a former Marine suffering from mental illness indicated that bullying was prevalent at the Marine unit some five years ago.
The 24-year-old man filed a suit against a chief of the Suwon office of the Veterans Ministry, demanding that he cancel the decision not to recognize him as a man of national merit.
The Seoul High Court particularly pointed to the deep-rooted tradition in the Marine Corps, under which soldiers collectively brand a maladapted solider an outcast and force junior soldiers into ignoring or disrespecting him.
The shooting incident sparked sharp public criticism as it occurred only six years after another horrific shooting spree.
In June 2005, at an Army frontline unit in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, a corporal went on a shooting spree that killed eight soldiers. Critics argue that the military has not made sufficient efforts to prevent the repeat of such an incident.
By Song Sang-ho (email@example.com)