Friday, November 20, 2009

Saipan: 5 Dead

Saipan will forever be remembered as the site of one of World War II's deadliest suicidal melodramas. Now a new incident has unfolded on the island, beginning and ending near those past cliffs of suicide.

Saipan is often recalled as the setting where thousands of Japanese soldiers and local civilians jumped to their deaths from the island's cliffs as the American assault drew to a close in July 1944. As the battle of Saipan reached its final days, Japanese soldiers and panicked civilians made their way north to the cliffs. The civilians and soldiers leapt from the island's Marpi Point and other cliffs, dying on the rocks or drowning in the sea.

Now a shooting spree that began near one of those points has ended in suicide near another of those same cliffs. A gunman went on a rampage on the Pacific resort island of Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands, on Friday, November 20, 2009, killing four people and wounding six others before fatally shooting himself, officials said.

Public Safety spokesman Jason Tarkong said two men, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl were killed in a half-hour of violence. The dead were all local residents.

The six wounded included a 4-year-old local girl and five visitors from South Korea.

"The lieutenant governor and I are monitoring the situation closely and working with officials from (Public Safety) and the FBI and we will continue to keep everyone informed," Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said.

Authorities said the suspected shooter is a contract worker in his 30s or 40s from Asia, but did not provide his name or home country.

The shootings occurred in two different areas of the island, starting at 11:21 a.m. local time with a popular tourist spot in Marpi where the gunman fired a barrage of bullets from his white van at the Koreans. A 39-year-old man was critically injured with a gunshot wound to his back.

The suspect then drove to the Kannat Tabla Shooting Range where he killed two men in their early 20s and the two children. He also shot a 4-year-old girl, who suffered a gunshot wound to the chest and was in critical condition.

His white van was discovered at Banzai Cliff, where police recovered three rifles.

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

"I want to assure the people of the commonwealth and all of our visiting tourists that the Department of Public Safety has the situation under control and that the individual responsible for these tragedies took his own life," Fitial said, in a summarized report from Gemma Casas and Kwang-tae Kim of the Associated Press.

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. The U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is located about 3,800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

During World War II, as the Battle of Saipan raged, despite repeated calls by the U.S. military to surrender, civilians chose death by jumping off cliffs or drowning themselves in the sea. They had been led to believe that surrender would mean murder, rape and torture at the hands of U.S. forces. Captured soldiers and civilians, instead, were treated with respect and confined at Camp Susupe.

According to a report on PBS, "On July 9, [1944] organized resistance on Saipan ceased. The costs were high. Americans suffered more than 14,000 casualties including 3,426 killed or missing. Of the 30,000 Japanese troops that defended Saipan, less than 1,000 remained alive at battle's end. Although exact numbers are not known, it is believed that close to 1,000 civilians perished at Marpi Point."

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