A paramedic’s account of the 19 May slaughter

On the evening of 19 May, it was reported that about two thousand people were taking shelter in Pathumwanaram temple near the Ratchaprasong intersection.  They decided to seek refuge there in the hope that they would be safe inside the monastery, but they were wrong.  6 people were killed.  Apart from the accounts of The Independent reporter Andrew Buncombe and an Australian photographer Steve Tickner, a paramedic nicknamed Keng told Prachatai and a few other reporters his version of events that day. 

Keng said that he was not a red shirt, but a paramedic who had worked with the Asa Ruam Jai paramedical unit attached to Vajira Hospital for over 10 years.    

On the morning of 19 May, Keng and his team decided to go to the Sala Daeng intersection.  They found no other rescue teams there.  Keng wore the uniform of Vajira Hospital.  About 9 am, a man was shot at a bus stop opposite Chula Hospital.  Two men who ran to help him were shot.  Another man was also shot, although he tried to run and dodge.  Keng decided to go himself.  Another young man who ran with him was shot in the right chest and one of his arms.  Keng dragged him in, and ran to try to get to the other bodies.  A man who ran after him was shot in the chest.  Three more men were shot in the head and neck.  Keng gave them CPR on the way to hospital, but believed that in the end they died.

The situation calmed down afterwards, until Natthawut Saikua, a red shirt leader, went on stage in the afternoon, telling the protesters to go home, amidst the sound of gunfire and explosions.  Everybody went for cover in and around Pathumwanaram temple.  Keng went to the temple at 3 pm, and helped the injured around the temple and the Police Hospital.  

At about 5 pm, the sound of explosions and gunfire came nearer and nearer.  He did not see who fired the gunshots.  He kept dragging the injured to safety.

A female paramedic named Kade who was standing attending to the wounds of an injured person inside the medical tent inside the temple was shot dead on the spot.  While bullets flew around, Keng told everyone to run to hide inside the temple’s pavilion.

The firing took about a few hours.  Those who tried to get to the fallen bodies were shot.

Keng was busy helping the injured, tending wounds and stopping bleeding.  Blood was all over his uniform and shoes.

Keng made contact with his own call centre, the Erawan Centre, and the police to send ambulances to pick up the injured as soon as possible. One small person suffered in pain until he died at about midnight.  Keng said he should have survived, but by the time an ambulance finally made it to the scene, it was too late, despite Keng’s effort to give him saline and oxygen.

The small guy was a red shirt from Kalasin.  He had always come to help Keng and the other paramedics. He was hit while he was helping the paramedics.

An ambulance came at almost 1 am, and took out four injured persons, including an old man who was in so much pain that Keng was worried whether he would survive.  The old man was shot in the front of his body, and the bullet went through, leaving a hole in his back.  Keng braced his back with two wooden planks.  However, a chubby man who was hit in the right hip refused to leave because he was too afraid.  Keng gave him painkillers and antibiotics.  He improved and finally went to the Police Hospital on the morning of 20 May. 

All paramedics wore red cross signs, but that did not save them from being shot.  Bullets were fired right at the medical tent, Keng said.

The bullets came from a high angle.  Despite a large sign put up that read ‘Sanctuary’ and everyone’s belief that inside the temple was the safest place, bullets came from the darkness.  

Keng said it was likely that the gunshots were fired from the BTS skytrain track up above.   On the morning of 20 May, at about 7-8 am, before police and the press came, when some of those inside the temple came out to look for food to share with the others, gunshots were fired from above.  Soldiers were seen on the BTS track, carrying rifles. 

Among the six dead inside the temple, three wore red cross signs.

The firing at the temple stopped at about 2 am.  Keng and the others got to sleep at 3 am, while the sound of gunshots from Pathumwan lasted throughout the night.

There were four paramedic teams stationed at the Ratchaprasong rally site during the protests, including RSR, Nightingale, FARED, which was the red shirts’ own unit, and the Asa Ruam Jai to which Keng belonged.

Some people inside the temple claimed to have heard soldiers shouting at them ‘You bastards [protesters] are scum of the country.  We will kill you all, you troublemakers.’  

Keng insisted that those inside the temple had never provoked or cursed at the soldiers.  And they were unarmed.

Keng said that on 10 April at Kok Wua intersection a soldier pointed a gun at his head and asked where he was taking the bodies, although he was wearing a uniform with the red cross sign.

Keng said that he saw soldiers tie four dead bodies with ropes and drag them onto trucks at Sala Daeng intersection, but he and the others could not take photos.  He also saw the same thing happening at Kok Wua intersection during the 10 April clash.

The 6 dead inside Pathumwanaram Temple on 19 May

1. Wichai Manpae (M), 61, Nakhon Pathom

2. Mongkhol Khemthong (M), 37, Bangkok, a rescue volunteer with Po Tek Tung Foundation

3. Atthachai Chumjan (M), 29, Roi Et, a fresh graduate from the Faculty of Law, Ramkhamhaeng University

4. Kamolkade Akkahad (F), 25, a volunteer with the Thai Red Cross shot inside the medical tent inside the temple

5. Akkaradej Khankaew, Kalasin

6. An unidentified man

Note: Prasat Phimphao, village head of Nong Pue, Khao Wong, Kalasin, came to take back home for a funeral ceremony the body of Akkaradej Khankaew who was shot in the head.  He told Prachatai that the autopsy certificate issued by the Forensic Department of the Police Hospital said that Akkaradej died from being hit with a hard object.  He and his friends argued the point, and the hospital then agreed to change it to death from a gunshot wound to the head with the exit wound at the cheek. 



Full transcript of interview

....We decided to see who was hurt in Saladaeng. It turned out no one remained at the paramedic unit there. There was me, wearing my medical uniform of Vajira Hospital, so I decided that if nobody else could venture out I would go myself. I saw one body right away. 

Two people went to help and were shot. The first person fell at the bus stop across from Chulalongkorn Hospital at about 9 am. The two who rushed to help were just ordinary people and were killed too. A fourth person who ran there tried to dodge the bullets but was also cut down. Nobody was left, so I decided to go in myself. As I ran in, a younger person saw that I was a medic and came too. He was shot in the chest, on the right side, in front of me, and in the arm. I dragged him out of there. Once I had done so I went out again to try to get the others. A person who followed me also fell, hit in the chest. Everybody was shot in the chest … and the head. Also, three people who had come to help yesterday about noon were shot in the head and neck; they’re probably dead.  I gave them CPR on the way from Saladaeng to hospital.

The situation calmed down afterwards. There was a press statement in the afternoon. Mr Nattawut went before the crowd at about 3 pm to tell everybody to go home. People didn’t want to move; there was disorder. As soon as Nattawut had finished talking, the explosions started up. Some people headed for Wat Pathum, others headed for various other places. I went to the wat too and attended to the injured in that area and around the Police Hospital.

At around 5 the sounds of explosions started coming closer and closer. At 6, almost no one was left in the medical tent I didn’t see who was shooting, but everybody saw the injured.

As paramedics, we had to help. Once we had dragged the wounded away from where they lay – even a woman named Kade, from another paramedic unit [apparently Mrs Kamolkade Akkahad, who was later shot in the head] was helping – she stood trying to stop the bleeding of another injured person inside the medical tent, in the area of the temple there, who then died. That was after 6 pm. The bullets kept spraying in. I told everybody to run into the sala [pavilion] inside.

Q. Was Kade applying first aid to people who were shot at the tent on the right side of the temple? 

Yes. For example, there was a little man [apparently Mr Akkaradej Khankaew, shot in the head] who didn’t die until about midnight, all the time in agony.

Q. Were all these people shot at the same time? 

At that particular place, yes. As soon as someone went to help someone else, they were shot. Nobody could get near the dead. As soon as we started to drag the bodies to safety, we were shot at.

Q. How long did the gunfire go on for?  

Two or three hours, all around. Some of the elderly people inside the temple were in shock from fear like they had never felt before. Nobody had thought it would come to this. I was there the whole time. We had wounded, we had to try to stop the bleeding however we could. You can see my shirt – it’s full of blood. My feet were bloody too. I had to throw away my trousers, they were so bloody. I worked with all my heart. Everything we had went into trying to stem the bleeding from the wounded. It wasn’t until last night that the ambulances came to take the sixth corpse away – that of the short man. That person shouldn’t have died – I was in contact with our radio controller, with the Erawan emergency center, with the police, everybody. I tried to get all of them to come get the wounded as soon as possible 

I wound up giving the injured saline drips, oxygen, everything. 

Q. Was the short person you refer to a Red Shirt? 

Yes, in the Kalasin tent, which was near my tent. That person had come to help us constantly with everything – dispensing medicine, dressing wounds, helping to carry around medical equipment. We became close. He was helping until yesterday. Yet he was shot too. Everybody that we could get out, we got out. Whoever we couldn’t get out we had to leave to get later. The compensation we got for saving so many people … you ask if I feel bad … I feel really bad. We all ate and slept together. To have met with what I’ve described – I’m finished with this government, really. Why did they do this to us? Everybody had a red cross on their uniform – yet they still shot at us. They swept the medical tent with gunfire.

Q. Did the shots come from above? 

It’s impossible to think that the soldiers would have been shooting from low down. All the bullets were coming from above. It’s not possible that the soldiers were holding a position in front of the temple gate. There was a clear sign posted there saying this was a religious sanctuary. Everybody had been sure that the temple was the safest possible place for them. The soldiers were not in front of us. They were up above, where it was dark. Because there was light in front, if there had been soldiers we would have seen them. But I don’t know where the bullets came from, only that no one could escape their trajectory.

Q. Which are the high buildings around there? Paragon and so on?  

I think the elevated railway is the most likely location for the shooters. After all, during the daytime when you saw people not daring to leave the temple, why was that? All you had to do was look up and you would see soldiers walking around, and you were scared. This morning, before the police and media came, our people went out to look for food for the people inside, there was still the sound of shooting from above. This was about 7 or 8 in the morning. People saw soldiers on the skywalk (railway line?) starting yesterday. 

Everybody saw them. This morning they were wandering around up there all the time. There were a lot of snipers. 

Q. Who among the six killed were wearing the red cross? 

Three of them had red crosses and the one with the Poh Teck Tung Foundation wore his uniform. I myself was wearing a medic’s uniform of Vajira Hospital.

Q. Were people being wounded throughout the period, starting at 9 am? 

People were dying throughout that time, being wounded throughout that time, being sent to the Police Hospital all day. There was a break, then the explosions started near Ploenchit. There were no police or soldiers over there, nothing. Only explosions. Also at Pratunam. Pathumwan, nothing yet, just some gunfire. Only when it was announced that people should go home did the explosions start going off everywhere. Gunfire began to be heard continuously. Everybody made for Wat Pathum, except for those who ran toward places outside. It was loud in the morning, and more and more widespread in the afternoon. Buildings began to burn. It did not end even until midnight. I didn’t get to sleep until 3 am. The shooting stopped in front of the wat about 2 am, and things were quiet. But it was loud all night around Pathumwan. In the middle of the night me and the other people inside decided to get food from outside. When we went out, we could still hear sounds of violence. Everybody was very afraid.

Q. What did you get to eat? 

Instant noodles. We had to crawl or creep out from the gate of the temple, and keep crawling in order to find food. There was gunfire all the time. We could see no soldiers on the ground, above it was very dark – they’d turned out all the lights. Only the temple had lights. [Maybe the temple had a generator - Prachatai]

Q. Did any government officials come to look after your safety? 

No, no one. Yesterday there was a teenager who had been shot in front of me and a monk helped me drag him from in front of the Chula hospital to the Chalerm Phao intersection. 

He’d been shot in the chest. That was about 10. The monk went off and the fifth corpse that the monk gave his robe to, we took inside from in front of the wat. There was a lot of blood in the medical tent. There were three people there helping. 

Q. You had three friends? 

Yes. There was a Poh Teck Tung staff member. He came to help because his house was nearby. He came to help every day, dispensing medicine, dressing some wounds. 

Q. The plump woman was Kade? 

Yes – from the hospital medical unit. 

Q. Were you close? 

Everybody was. Because we were together. We ate together and stayed together. There was one time I was going to stop work on Friday, I was going to some sleep here [but] in case there were poeple hurt or ill we would try to get a vehicle to come in, like the 2009 flu cases which I was the one who made contact with the hospital to come pick them up. Normally we were at the Chaloem Phao intersection, but that night the gunfire was louder and louder, so we figured to set up in the temple grounds as it was a religious sanctuary and it would be safe. Altogether there were four paramedic organizations: RSR, Nightingale, Fared and my own. We came in to serve the Red Shirts, but to be honest we are not able to help at all in a real crisis. My unit, the Ruam Jai volunteer medical unit, had been helping since 10 April. Some people saw us coming in and thought that we were also Red Shirts, but we’re not – we’re medics. This morning I assisted with the six bodies, as much as I could. I’ve willingly done this kind of work for ten years. 

There were the little man from Kalasin, the man with the Poh Teck Tung Foundation, Kade who was a medical assistant at a hospital, and an older friend who was a villager who came to help when he could; his tent was nearby. We got used to each other and everybody in the Red Shirts saw my medical unit offering first aid to whoever needed it. If people were really in a bad way we tried to arrange for them to be sent to hospital, because then the Police Hospital didn’t want to have much to do with us. I don’t know what happened to that older friend. Is he dead? I know he suffered a lot before the vehicle came for him; it was almost 1 am. Four people were taken out. But a fat person who had been shot in the right hip didn’t want to go because he was afraid, so I just gave him some painkillers and disinfectants. He was better. He went to the Police Hospital this morning. Everybody feels sorry. I haven’t eaten for two days, since yesterday morning when the younger friend was shot. Last night the older friend was shot in the chest, with the bullet coming out behind making a big hole. Was it painful?  Very painful. I had to find two sheets of wood to prevent the bones from moving at the back. I stayed with him. The little man – should he have survived? If the doctors had helped him …

Q. You mean the doctors didn’t help? 

They couldn’t get in. The soldiers wouldn’t let them. I tried to arrange wth any unit I could, but it took a long time before anyone came. The little guy couldn’t take it any more … 

Q. Why did they shoot at the temple? 

Some of us claimed to have heard that the soldiers shouted out, “you bastards will wreck the country, so we’re gonna kill all of you”. All we could do was shout to people to come inside where the soldiers couldn’t shoot. There was a sala [pavilion] inside, with an underground room even. But in front of the temple there was a clear space.

Q. Had some of those inside the temple provoked or cursed at the soldiers before?

No.  Everybody was occupied with those who had been shot. 

Q. Did the people inside have guns to fight back with? 

No. Nothing. Only our bare hands.

Q. Are you yourself a Red Shirt? 

No, sir. I’m a radio operator who came in to help of my own free will, always serving people whether they are Red or Yellow. I make no distinctions. I’m a volunteer, risking my life since 10 April at Khok Wua, when a soldier pointed a gun at my head, even though I was wearing the red cross and a white medic’s outfit. The soldier asked, rudely, where the hell are you going to take the corpses? I said, older brother, I’m a staff member, you want to shoot me, I’m not afraid. I’m here to take the people who are mortally wounded and try to save them. I’m not afraid of your damn bullets. I don’t fear you, if I die I die, I’m here to help these people. He took the gun away from my head, didn’t shoot. He backed off and I was able to take away a wounded person, who died later from loss of blood. Like the six bodies here – with holes you can see their hearts through, two cases of chest wounds. What guns made these wounds? I want to know. Why are the holes so big?

Q.  Have you ever seen anything like this? 

This is the second time for me. The first was on 10 April. But this is the worst I’ve seen in 10 years.

Q. How many peple died, do you think? 

I think very many. I’m not trying to slander the soldiers, but the things I’ve seen, that everybody has seen, the things the troops did … I don’t understand why they had to take bodies away. 

Q. Did you see this yourself?  


Q. Where? 

Saladaeng. When we went in we were shot at.  Soldiers ran back and tied the bodies with ropes and dragged them away, but we couldn’t take pictures. As at Khok Wua, I saw this with my own eyes. They shot them and then tied rope around them and put them in the trucks right away. I don’t know why the news didn’t show this. This is our government? I was here, I saw everything. I thought 10 April was bad but this is even worse.

Q.  How many bodies did you see being loaded onto trucks at Saladaeng? 

Four. The soldiers loaded them up. Everybody who was there saw the whole thing.

Q. At about what time? 

By the time the soldiers dispersed everybody it was about 11. The soldiers kept moving in zigzag until they reached Ratchadamri BTS station.  There, it was quiet, no sound of gunshots.  All the volunteers withdrew to the wat, and nothing happened. Then at 2 pm the sound of explosions started up from around Ploenchit. Then the shooting started in Pathumwan. After 3, Nattawut announced he was turning himself in. Immediately, explosions started to go off. Then we had to disperse and I went to get a stretcher, oxygen tank, my medical kit and took them to the temple to help the injured. After that it was impossible to go out. I had to stay around the wat, which everybody thought was the safest place. Things started to get worse around 4 or 5 pm. I never thought today would happen. I thought Khok Wua was the worst, but I was wrong. 

The police got in touch to say they would come get people; in the morning the people let the police come speak to them, but nobody wanted to leave. If they didn’t see their MPs, they would not go. I couldn’t leave either, unless everybody else left; and I was worried about the bodies. I was worried where my friends’ corpses would be taken. Everybody was afraid. So I had to stay to the end no matter what.