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A teenage shooter and accountability

It is hard to believe that a shooting rampage by a teenage student, such as we see in America, would one day happen in our country.

The mass shooting at Siam Paragonby a 14-year-old boy who killed three people and injured four others two weeks ago didn’t only shock the country but raised many serious issues, let alone the very question — what drove the boy to commit such a grievous crime?

According to the police, the boy suffered a psychological breakdown in the run-up to the shooting. He had a mental health problem and underwent treatment at a hospital, but stopped taking his medication. It’s believed this might have played a big part.

While online shooting games he was addicted to were labelled as another culprit, many pointed the finger at his parents and asked about the boy’s upbringing.

Not long after the shooting, an interview in which the boy’s mother talked about a plan she had for her son’s academic excellence to media seven years ago was shared on social media. It showed the boy had to study very hard from a young age. Before he carried out the deadly attack, he was blamed several times for an unsatisfactory school record.

Even though netizens believed the boy must have suffered a lot of pressure to meet the high expectations of his high-profile parents, they couldn’t bring themselves to feel sorry for him.

They wanted him put in jail following the revelation that the attack was well prepared by the boy. He purchased a blank gun online and managed to modify it to fire real bullets. He also practised shooting at a range 20 times.

What made them feel sick even more is probably a conversation leaked from an online chat group. It showed the boy jokingly texting his friends during the attack. They also admired the shooting and bullied a dead victim in a photo he sent to the group.

This massacre prompted many to demand changes in the law. A few days after the attack, the Interior Ministry vowed to review and amend all existing gun control laws to ensure public safety. People were also arrested for selling the gun and bullets to the boy.

Even though the boy faces many charges, the likelihood of him facing punishment is very slim. According to the Child Protection Act, children under 15 can’t be held criminally liable for their actions. They can be convicted but will not be punished. That means one day in the near future the boy can just go home. Many found this unacceptable and asked if this case should be an exception.

One of them was Nongnuch Tantisantiwong, a visiting associate professor at the University of Southampton in the UK, who wrote on her Facebook that penalties should be determined based on an offender’s intention rather than age.

The academic said that the problems in children today stem from parents’ failure to discipline and the law, which is inclined to compromise on minors for the sake of human rights.

She pointed out that there were limits to human rights and equal human rights should mean that every offender be punished for their wrongdoings regardless of age, career or position.

For this case, she said that the boy wouldn’t have come to this point if he was conscious and controlled himself. Considering the fact that he could modify a gun, she believed that he must have been clever and certainly seen through this loophole in the law.

She also reminded us to think carefully whether to leave this matter alone and risk seeing a copycat in the future, or make it a standard that any wrongdoer must be punished no matter their age.

I believe that many people agree with her. But what if the boy is proven to suffer from mental disorders and the court wants him cured and lets him go?

Personally, I think it would be better if the boy gets the necessary therapies to help him turn over a new leaf and go on with his life. The only question is, how can we be certain this will really work for him?

We can’t know what was on his mind while he opened fire at the mall on that day or whether he did it out of anger, hatred or just for fun. But we can clearly see something horrible about his nature.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether his parents ever realised that there was a seed of violence hidden in their son and cared to get rid of it. Sadly, that seed flourished and its flowers were in full bloom on that tragic day.

Now, the boy is in psychiatric assessment to see whether this crime was indeed driven by mental illness. If it turns out to be the case, we can only hope the doctors find a remedy to fix him and make sure he doesn’t harm anyone again.

Patcharawalai Sanyanusin is a writer for the Life section of the Bangkok Post.

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