|Part I - Background & A night on the bridge
Part II - Crossing the lines
Part III - A hot afternoon
Part IV - The shooting starts
Part V - Ian Neumegen, a foreigner killed in the disturbances
Part VI - Soldiers advance through Banglampoo
Part VII - Aftermath
Comments on the Black May 1992 story
Part IV - The shooting starts
Afternoon, Monday, May 18, 1992
(Posted on 2Bangkok.com on May 30, 2004)
Within 10 minutes after I left Ratchadamenorn, soldiers opened fire on the protesters to clear out the street and arrest the leaders. I had just crossed a footbridge over Banglampoo Canal when I heard echoes of gunfire coming along the canal. I went back to Phra Sumen Road by Wat Bowonniwet. People were looking around curiously. I think many were still not convinced that the army would use live ammunition on people. Slowly, some protesters and slightly injured people came running from the Phra Sumen-Dinso intersection.
Looking towards the Phra Sumen-Dinso intersection. City buses were parked there as a barricade.
Suddenly, a group of soldiers swung round the corner and looked down the street. They hesitated for a moment then seems to notice something and in an instant started firing at the crowd. I was never sure what they saw. Was it people taking photos? Or 'troublemaking' motorcyclists? Or just the crowd in general?
People run as smoke from gunfire wafts down Phra Sumen Road by Wat Bowonniwet
People help a fallen motorcyclist
After the first volley, the soldiers retreated around the corner and an even bigger crowd amassed as a wounded motorcyclist was helped up. People crowded around other injured persons and piled them in the back of a car. As the car sped off, some of the people were shrieking with grief at the soldiers. While I thought I felt fine, my hands were shaking so much I had to hold my camera against a telephone pole to keep it steady.
The injured being sped away. There was still a great deal of brave defiance left in the crowd.
Incredibly, the people (including myself) started to drift back down Phra Sumen Road toward where the shooting was. We reached the end of the city wall. Everyone was looking down the street and I looked up and noticed a soldier on the wall. He appeared to light some firecrackers and the resulting noise made the crowd fall back again. I raised my camera to photograph him, but he raised his gun at me at the same time so I fled with everyone else. There has been some controversy over the years as to whether soldiers used any warning before shooting into the crowds--in this case they did use firecrackers.
Once the noise died down, the crowd gravitated back to the end of the wall city wall once again. Immediately, there was a short, sharp retort of gunfire. It was so quick the people did not have a chance to run but a few steps and it stopped.
The following happened in about 10 seconds: I looked back and saw that a foreigner who had been standing about two meters from me had been shot in the head. Other bystanders were hurt too. Sobbing people surrounded me and told me how sorry they were. I pushed away from the people and tried to see the foreigner on the ground. By now my hands were shaking uncontrollably. As I tried to raise my camera over the heads of the furious crowd to photograph the dead man, I could not help but catch the eye of a soldier on the wall above me. It seemed that all at once the soldiers and the people in the crowd realized what was going to happen next--utter chaos broke loose.
Bullets flew everywhere. The crowd turned in unison and ran. People stepped on each other's feet and ran right out of their shoes. I do not know if the people who fell were shot or just tripped, but no one looked back. Cement shards blew off the buildings and bullets ricocheted off the street in front of me as I ran. The terrifying sounds of the shooting were probably amplified by the way the street is lined with cement walls. I did manage to take one photo (the last on the roll of film) as I continued to run (above). From the photo you can see the considerable amount of smoke in the street.
As far as I can determine, the foreigner who was shot was Ian Neumegen. While most sources say he was killed on May 19th, I have confirmed with Ian's family he was shot on May 18th at about 3pm.
I turned the corner and ran back home. Once home I noticed red on my shirt and suddenly felt the pain from a gash on my hand. In the extreme excitement of running from the shooting, I had not even realized I was hurt and did not know how it happened.
Gunfire went on continuously around my neighborhood for the next five hours and then off and on throughout the night.