The 22-year-old sergeant, who is identified only by his surname Lim, ran away with a K-2 rifle with some 60 bullets after the shooting in the unit of the 22nd Army Division in Goseong, Gangwon Province.
|A wounded soldier is transported to a hospital in Gangneung, Gangwon Province on Saturday night after a shooting rampage in an eastern border unit. (Yonhap)|
As of Sunday afternoon, Lim and the troops were caught in a standoff after he opened fire at the troops trying to catch him north of the Civilian Control Access Line, close to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. A platoon leader suffered gunshot wounds during the firefight.
According to the ministry, Lim detonated one grenade at around 8:15 p.m. and fired some 10 shots in and outside his barracks after conducting vigilance duty at a general outpost from 2 p.m. for nearly six hours on Saturday. The motives behind his shooting were not immediately known pending an investigation into the killing.
“After detonating a grenade, he (Lim) fired shots toward the barracks, killing three soldiers, and then he entered the hall of the barracks, killing two inside the barracks,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
“We are deeply sorry to the people for causing concerns. We pray for the sacrificed soldiers and extend our condolences to the bereaved families, and will do our best to support them.”
Two of the seven wounded soldiers were immediately transported by helicopter to a military hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province on Saturday night. The two received emergency surgery and are now in stable condition. The rest suffered minor injuries and are being treated at a hospital in Gangneung, Gangwon Province, officials said.
Immediately after the shooting, the 22nd Division raised its vigilance level to the highest to prevent Lim from defecting to the North. The military also directed civilians in the vicinity of the unit to remain at home and report to it should they happen to find the deserter.
The military also deployed several helicopters and special commandos to search for Lim.
The ministry set up an investigative team consisting of 48 military officers to find out about the motives behind his shooting. The team is currently gathering statements from Lim’s colleagues and bereaved families.
In a personality test in April 2013 to verify whether he was mentally fit for the frontline mission, Lim was classified as an “A-grade” soldier that needed “special attention” and was unfit for the duty at a general outpost.
But in another test in November that year, he was classified as a “B-grade” soldier who still needed attention, but was able to carry out the GOP mission. Then, he began his GOP mission in December 2013. Lim took another personality test in March this year and was evaluated as having no special problem for the mission.
Some observers said that the shooting underscored the mental distress of those who conduct GOP missions. An Army soldier usually spends up to one year carrying out the mission in a small, remote observation spot for many hours each day.
But critics argued that it was hard to understand that the military had allowed a soldier, once classified as being mentally unfit for the GOP mission, to carry out the mission with explosive devices on a daily basis.
Lim joined the Army in December 2012 and was to be discharged in September this year.
The incident is the worst case since June 2005 when a soldier went on a shooting rampage and detonated a grenade, leaving eight people dead and two seriously wounded.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)