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Thailand survivor recalls hiding for six hours during shooting rampage

Montagan Nukdai, 28, a waitress at a restaurant, attended a vigil for the 29 people who were killed.
Image: Thailand candlelight vigil
Mourners attended a vigil at the Thao Suranari Monument in Nakhon Ratchasima, Thailand, on Sunday, Feb. 9, 2020.Courtesy WeKorat

Hundreds attended a candlelight vigil Sunday in the Nakhon Ratchasima province of Thailand in memory of 29 people who were killed in a shooting rampage that began Saturday at a military barracks and ended the next day at a nearby mall.

Mourners gathered at the statue of "Lady Mo," or Thao Suranari, to console one another and pay tribute to those killed in the attack. Ya Mo is a historic heroine who unified and protected residents from an invasion in 1820s.

Among those in the crowd was Montagan Nukdai, 28, a waitress at a restaurant, who was still shaken after she and others who sheltered inside the building during the shooting made it out safely.

"It could have easily been me," Nukdai said, choking up. "I closed my eyes, and I thought about people who lost their lives, especially the mall security guard. We used to say 'hello' to each other every morning. He was like a family to me."

Nukdai said the ordinary Saturday evening at Terminal 21 Korat mall descended into terror when she heard multiple gunshots while she was serving patrons. She and other staff immediately rushed to close the roll-up door and told guests to quickly move into the staff room.

As gunfire echoed through the mall, 20 people, including a young child, quietly sheltered in fear in the cramped space for hours.

"I was nervous that the child was going to make a sound, but he did not. He kept quiet the whole time." Nukdai said.

Meanwhile, everyone was comforting one another and monitoring the shooting updates on their phones, she said. Inside the staff room, Nukdai documented on Twitter how the harrowing scene unfolded.

Nukdai saw that Thailand's Crime Suppression Division had posted on Facebook, urging anyone who was stuck in the mall to contact it. She reached out, and authorities rescued the group that night.

"The security guards and soldiers came to rescue me," she said. "I could sense the seriousness of the situation in their face, but they tried to console us, telling us not to be scared."

They were escorted out in small groups through the fire exit. She was on her way to the evacuation area at a nearby gas station when she heard another round of gunfire coming from the mall. The crowd again descended into panic, but authorities worked to calm everyone down and asked people to go home, she said.

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Nukdai returned to her apartment, but she said her bed provided little comfort as her thoughts raced, wondering whether the gunman was still alive. The next day, she learned that the gunman had been shot and killed by authorities.

"We don't know why he did this. It appears he went mad," Lt. Gen Kongcheep Tantrawanit, a spokesman for the Defense Ministry, said after the incident.

At the memorial, as dusk settled and the monks began their prayers, Nukdai lit a candle and offered her condolences.