At around 2:55 p.m., the 22-year-old sergeant, identified only by his surname Lim, fired at the left side of his upper body between his chest and shoulder with his rifle amid a standoff with special commandos trying to capture him in a frontline area close to the Demilitarized Zone.
He was immediately transported to a hospital in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. He was bleeding heavily, but not in critical condition, officials said.
|A fugitive sergeant is taken to a hospital emergency room in Gangwon Province after being captured while attempting suicide on Monday. (Yonhap)|
“We retrieved his rifle and bullets right after capturing him. We plan to hand him over to the investigative authorities,” ministry spokesperson Kim Min-seok told reporters.
“We are deeply sorry again for causing concerns to the people, and we express our deep gratitude to the residents near the unit for their patience and cooperation.”
The capture came after the military authorities along with his father and older brother kept persuading him to surrender.
“My heart is crushed. Put down your weapons and surrender,” Lim’s father shouted some eight meters away from Lim.
Lim said in response, “I can’t. I would be sentenced to death when I return as I committed a serious crime anyway.”
The motives behind his shooting were unknown yet pending an investigation into the incident in a border unit of the Army’s 22nd Division in Goseong, Gangwon Province. It was the worst case since 2005, when a soldier in a unit in Yeoncheon, Gyeonggi Province, fired at his comrades, killing eight people.
From around 8:20 a.m. on Monday, Army commandos began encouraging Lim to surrender. At around 8:40 a.m., they also allowed Lim to talk to his father over the phone as he demanded it in a tearful voice.
Several unarmed troops also handed him beverages, field rations and other food as they stepped close to him to urge him to surrender. They made efforts to prevent him from killing himself. He carried a K-2 rifle with dozens of bullets.
“We tried to approach him unarmed as we showed to him that we don’t intend to hurt him,” the spokesperson said.
The standoff with the sergeant took place mostly north of the Civilian Access Control Line close to the Demilitarized Zone dividing the two Koreas. All civilian residents near the scene were evacuated to safe zones, officials said.
As two days passed after the shooting spree, criticism surfaced of the military’s inept operations to catch the runaway soldier. The military failed to block him from moving far away as he got some 10 km from his unit about 18 hours after the shooting.
Critics also pointed out that the military failed to make all-out efforts to chase Lim as soon as he ran away, as its initial focus was on taking care of the casualties.
In the first encounter with Lim on Sunday, the military also failed to effectively restrain Lim, who opened fire at the troops and wounded a platoon leader. On Monday, a corporal was wounded after a soldier in the search team mistook him for Lim and fired at him.
“As the troops are trying to encircle him from a closer distance, they feel increasingly nervous,” said the ministry spokesperson said.
The operations to capture Lim were difficult because the mountainous areas were strewn with unidentified landmines on top of the adverse weather conditions hampering the operations, officials said. They added that the sergeant also knew the terrain features and hiding spots very well.
Meanwhile, bereaved families and others started to pay their respects to the victims of the deadly shooting incident at a group memorial alter set up at a military hospital in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province. The bodies of the five dead soldiers were laid at the hospital.
The bereaved families did not accept citizens to visit the memorial altar as they wished the funeral process proceeded solemnly with only relatives and close acquaintances.
By Song Sang-ho (firstname.lastname@example.org)