by JAMES S. KIM | @james_s_kim
A 24-year-old South Korean soldier shot and killed two fellow reservists and injured two others before turning the gun on himself earlier Wednesday, according to the Associated Press.
The shooter, surnamed Choe, was participating in a mandatory training session with fellow reservists. Choe had fired one round when he suddenly turned his K-2 rifle on them and fired seven times. He then used the ninth out of the 10 bullets he had been given to kill himself.
Army officials said the two reservists who died were shot in their heads; one died while being transported to the hospital, while the other succumbed to his injury shortly after arriving. Choe was also a reservist who had finished his compulsory military training: All able-bodied men in South Korea are required to serve two years in the armed forces and then participate in annual military training in the reserve force for eight years, up to a max of 160 hours per year.
Yonhap News reported that Choe was put in a group of soldiers who needed “special attention” during his active service due to high risk of suicide and had received treatment for depression. In a suicide note found in his pocket following the shooting, Choe had written that life was meaningless and that he had suffered during his time in the military.
“Tomorrow, I will do shooting practice. … I am becoming obsessed with thinking that I want to kill them all and I want to die,” the note read.
Bullying and Tragic Deaths in the South Korean Military
There have been a number of incidents in recent years by South Korean soldiers at army barracks that have prompted concerns and criticism about social issues in the military, including bullying, abuse, sexual harassment and proper awareness of mental health conditions. According to statistics by the Ministry of National Defense in Seoul, the army saw an average of 82.2 suicides a year between 2009-13.
An army sergeant in his 20s who went on a shooting rampage and killed five and wounded seven others in June 2014 had also been categorized as needing “special attention.” He later told investigators he had taken offense after discovering his colleagues’ drawings that portrayed him as various cartoon characters, including SpongeBob SquarePants.
In April 2014, a South Korean private died of asphyxiation after allegedly choking on food while being beaten by fellow soldiers, and two soldiers died last September during an anti-captivity training exercise, presumably due to suffocation. A female officer committed suicide in October 2013, and a South Korean military investigation determined that she had suffered repeated sexual harassment while on active duty.
Compulsory military service has become a contentious issue in itself. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International issued a report on Wednesday urging South Korea to end the imprisonment of around 600 men for draft-dodging. These “conscientious objectors” had been unfairly labeled as criminals, the report said, and the men faced “harsh consequences,” including abuse and discrimination, after their release because of their refusal to serve. Many of the objectors cite reasons based on their religious faith
South Korean officials have maintained that the mandatory service must remain in place as long as North Korea poses a military threat. In 2007, the Ministry of Defense considered alternatives to military service, but any ideas were scrapped once Lee Myung-bak became president the next year. Lee took a hard line stance towards North Korea, and current president Park Geun-hye has largely continued a similar policy.
Featured image via South China Morning Post