The Pacific resort island of Saipan was reeling Friday from one of the most violent attacks in its history, when a gunman killed five people, including two small children and himself, in a rampage that ended at a World War II historical site.
The violence claimed the lives of two men, a 4-year-old boy and a 2-year-old girl, all residents of the U.S. commonwealth, Public Safety spokesman Jason Tarkong said. Five South Korean tourists, including a boy and a girl, and a 4-year-old local girl were among the six people wounded.
“The commonwealth has never experienced a tragic situation like this, and we are saddened by the appalling action of a single individual that has caused so much harm to our peaceful island community,” Gov. Benigno R. Fitial said.
Fitial stressed the tourist haven was still a safe place and precautions would be taken to prevent similar attacks.
Police said the attack began Thursday inside a shooting range in the community of Kannat Tabla, killing two men in their early 20s and the two children. The 4-year-old girl was critically injured with a gunshot wound to the chest.
Shortly after the first attack, the suspect began firing a rifle from a white van at a group of South Koreans visiting a World War II historic spot in nearby Marpi, wounding five. Police do not believe the shooter was specifically targeting tourists in what Tarkong termed a random drive-by shooting.
Authorities said the suspected shooter was a contract worker in his 30s or 40s from Asia, but his name and home country were not disclosed. Several residents said the man was known as “Mr. Lee” and they believe he was from China.
The Pacific News Center identified the gunman as Lee Zhong Ren, an employee at the shooting range. The news station also reported that Lee left behind a suicide note that spoke of a business deal gone bad.
Police would not immediately confirm the report.
Saipan is the main island of the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, which has about 60,000 residents and is located about 3,800 miles (6,100 kilometres) southwest of Hawaii. 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.
Korea is the second largest market for the commonwealth, behind Japan.
The suspect was last spotted driving toward Banzai Cliff, the site where an untold number of Japanese jumped to their deaths in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan. When police officers arrived in the area, witnesses reported a man was shooting a rifle.
Police discovered the van and recovered three rifles inside the vehicle.
Officials said the gunman’s body was found along the edge off the cliff line near the vehicle with a .22-calibre rifle strapped around his shoulder.
The South Korean tourists were sightseeing in an area known as the Last Command Post, a World War II attraction featuring remnants of American tanks. There is also a memorial in the area dedicated to Koreans who fought in the war.
Among the South Koreans, a 39-year-old man was critically injured with a wound to his back. A 5-year-old girl and an 8-year-old boy were treated and released from the Commonwealth Health Center.
Lt. Gov. Eloy Inos called it a sad day for the commonwealth, which is heavily dependent on tourism.
“This is an unfortunate but isolated incident,” he said. “It happened for reasons unbeknownst to us but we can handle this type of situation.”
Associated Press Writer Kwang-tae Kim contributed to this story from Seoul, South Korea.