A ricocheting bullet from gunfire on the streets of Phnom Penh’s Chamkar Mon district has left the family of 2-year-old Sarak Thidachey in mourning and local police with no suspects and few leads.
Two groups of young men—four strong each—apparently got into a fight at about 9 pm Saturday while drinking inside a beer garden on Street 205, said Pov Pidor, Tuol Svay Prey II commune police chief.
The argument spilled out onto the street and one man fired off two shots with a handgun, Pov Pidor said.
When the gunfire erupted, Sarak Thidachey was playing on the floor inside his house on the same street.
One of the bullets blasted through the house’s wooden wall, ripped through a glass display case, and ricocheted off a cake stand before hitting the toddler in the head.
Relatives of the 2-year-old didn’t notice he was hit right away. Not until a pool of dark red blood started gathering near his head that now lay on the floor where he had been playing, his uncle, Thong Ty, said Tuesday.
Sarak Thidachey never made a sound.
He had immediately lost consciousness, his uncle said.
Family members rushed the dying infant to three different hospitals in Phnom Penh—including the National Pediatric Hospital on Russian Boulevard—in an attempt to find a doctor who could resuscitate him.
Their frantic efforts were in vain, and Sarak Thidachey died of his injuries at about 10 pm.
On Tuesday, the boy’s mother lay motionless on a folding chair, while her other son, a 1-year-old, played and cooed under the watchful eye of other grieving relatives.
“We just want police to find the gunmen,” Thong Ty said.
“We want both compensation and legal action taken against them. We are so sorry and upset and sad. He was very mischievous and lovely,” Thong Ty said of his deceased infant nephew.
“We have already filed a complaint to commune police and we hope they arrest the gunmen soon,” he added.
A small urn containing the child’s ashes and a shrine displaying a baby bottle and bear-shaped plate of chicken and rice sits in the family’s living room.
Commune police chief Pov Pidor said investigators found shell casings at the scene and believe the weapon used was a Colt 45 handgun, a pricey US weaponry brand.
“Only one group owned a gun. The suspects left before we arrived and we just gathered information from the eyewitnesses,” he said.
Police are also searching for suspects based on physical descriptions from those who saw the fight, said Ouch Sokhon, Chamkar Mon district police chief.
Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, downplayed the significance of the latest case of armed youths opening fire on the capital’s streets.
He emphasized that the shooting was not indicative of a larger problem of gun violence in Phnom Penh.
“It’s just one or two cases,” Khieu Sopheak said, “but we have not dented the security of Phnom Penh.”
The issue, he added, was really one for the country’s lawmakers: “We need more laws implemented on weapons usage.”