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Pacific resort island reels after deadly shootings

Authorities in Saipan say the tourist haven is still safe, despite a rampage by a gunman who  killed four people and wounded six others before fatally shooting himself.
Saipan Shooting
Emergency workers carry an injured person to am ambualnce on the Pacific resort island of Saipan on Friday. Authorities say a gunman killed four people and wounded eight before fatally shooting himself.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

After going on a shooting rampage that left a trail of victims on the Pacific resort island of Saipan, the gunman drove to a scenic, rocky cliff where untold numbers of Japanese men, women and children plunged to their deaths to avoid capture during World War II, according to police and witness accounts.

He parked his van and walked to edge of Banzai Cliff. But instead of jumping, the gunman shot himself — ending his life and the carnage. In total, five people were dead, including the gunman and two small children, and six were wounded in Saipan's most violent attack in recent memory, leaving this usually tranquil island reeling and shaken.

"The commonwealth has never experienced a tragic situation like this, and we are saddened by the appalling action of a single individual that has caused so much harm to our peaceful island community," Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said.

Fitial stressed the tourist haven was still a safe place and said precautions would be taken to prevent similar attacks.

Besides the gunman, the violence claimed the lives of two men, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, all residents of the U.S. commonwealth, Public Safety spokesman Jason Tarkong said. Six people were injured: a 4-year-old local girl and five South Korean tourists, including a boy and a girl.

Police said the attack began Friday inside a shooting range in the community of Kannat Tabla, where two men in their early 20s and the two children were killed. The 4-year-old girl was critically injured with a gunshot wound to the chest.

Shortly after the first attack, the suspect began firing a rifle from a white van at a group of South Koreans visiting a World War II historic spot in nearby Marpi, wounding five. Police do not believe the shooter was specifically targeting tourists in what Tarkong termed a random drive-by shooting.

Roxanne Diaz told the Pacific Daily News about 60 people were in the area taking photos, "just like a regular tourist day."

"And next thing you know, they hear something that sounded like fireworks," followed by the bloody chaos, Diaz said.

Authorities said the suspected shooter was a contract worker in his 30s or 40s from China. His name was withheld pending notification of family, which was expected sometime Saturday. Several residents said the man was known as "Mr. Lee."

The Pacific News Center identified the gunman as Lee Zhong Ren, an employee at the shooting range. The news station also reported that Lee left behind a suicide note that spoke of a business deal gone bad.

The telephone at the shooting range has been disconnected.

Scene of mayhem, confusionSaipan is the main island of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which has about 60,000 residents and is about 3,800 miles southwest of Hawaii. Saipan is a popular tourist destination among South Koreans, with more than 111,000 South Koreans visiting the island in 2008, according to the Marianas Visitors Authority.

Saipan officials feared the violence would lead to a drop in tourism, which has already suffered because of the sagging global economy.

The suspect was last spotted driving toward Banzai Cliff, the site where numerous Japanese jumped to their deaths to avoid capture by American troops in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan.

When officers arrived in the area, witnesses reported a man was shooting a rifle. Police discovered the van and found three rifles inside.

Officials said the gunman's body was found along the edge off the cliff with a .22-caliber rifle strapped around his shoulder.

The South Korean tourists were sightseeing in an area known as the Last Command Post, a World War II spot featuring remnants of American tanks. A memorial in the area is dedicated to Koreans who fought in the war.

Among those injured, a 39-year-old man was critically hurt with a wound to his back. A 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy were treated and released from the Commonwealth Health Center.

Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos called it a sad day for the commonwealth.

"This is an unfortunate but isolated incident," he said. "It happened for reasons unbeknownst to us, but we can handle this type of situation."