Seven years on: no investigation into volunteer rescuer killed during red shirt crackdown

Seven years ago, Bunthing Pansila, a volunteer rescue worker, was shot dead during the government crackdown on red shirt protesters. Since then, nobody has dared to testify as a witness to his shooting, leaving his murder uninvestigated, and justice for a grieving family wanting.
 
In the evening of 14 May 2010, Bunthing succumbed to a bullet wound in the Ratchaprarop area of Bangkok, where the authorities were aggressively attempting to end the rally by the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship. 
 
The military unit deployed in the area where the murder took place was 1st Division of the King’s Guard. The unit’s commander at that time was Gen Kampanat Ruddit, a current member of the King’s privy council.
 
Bunthing, 25, was an emergency response volunteer from Vajira Hospital. Until his very last day, Bunthing rescued people from crises on a motorbike.
 
After being shot, Bunthing lay in a pool of blood until he was seen by Kittiphan Khanthong, a young man of the same age. When Kittiphan attempted to assist Bunthing, he too was shot dead.
 
 
Bunthing’s son Fino
 
The day after Bunthing’s death, his family went to Ratchaprarop to retrieve his motorbike. It was only during the night of 14 May that authorities put up signs declaring Ratchaprarop a ‘live fire zone’ where real, rather than rubber, bullets would be used.
 
Bunthing’s family recalls that he was a man who wanted to serve society, that he was somebody who wanted to help others as far as he could. In his capacity as an emergency worker, he assisted protesters from all sides and all shirt colours.
 
When he was shot, he was wearing the hospital’s white robes.
 
 
The location where Bunthing was shot dead
 
“Maybe the incident was an accident that should not have happened, since we made efforts to notify soldiers that [rescue parties] would be entering [Ratchaprarop] to assist the wounded. But at the time, so many people were running in and out, creating confusion,” explained Malinee Sukawejworakit, the then deputy governor of Bangkok, the day following Bunthing’s death.
 
Despite the passing of many years, nobody has been charged with Bunthing’s death. It was been merely added to the total of other fatalities in the area.
 
 
(Left) Bunthing’s mother-in-law Oraphin Satipanya
 
Bunthing’s mother-in-law Oraphin Satipanya, aged 50, attributes the lack of progress in the case to the lack of willing witnesses to the shooting. Oraphin herself has been invited to provide information at court only once, and even that was merely to confirm that she was of kin.
 
Oraphin recalls that whenever the family commemorates Bunthing’s death at the scene of the crime, residents are always willing to recount the incident to them. Yet they have repeatedly refused her requests to act as witnesses in court.
 
 
An event commemorating the death of Bunthing and Kittiphan on Ratchaprarop road
 
Bunthing’s seven-year absence has left a heavy mark on his family. His child, 9 months old when he was killed, is now eight and fatherless. The responsibility to care for the child has now fallen to Oraphin, since Bunthing’s wife works full-time.
 
Oraphin muses that today, she took Bunthing’s son to play football. Perhaps if Bunthing was still alive, he would have been the one to take his son instead.
 
Oraphin considers Bunthing a blood-relative, essentially a foster son. Bunthing did not know his own mother and father, having been separated from them at a young age. Upon marrying Oraphin’s daughter, he came to live with them as just another member of the family.
 
Each year, the families of Bunthing and Kittiphan, along with staff from Vajira hospital, gather to commemorate the lost lives. Afterwards, Oraphin stays on, paying respects to Bunthing alone.
 
 
Oraphin pays respect to Bunthing