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Cambodian Gunmen Seize Dozens of Toddlers and Kill a 3-Year-Old

June 17, 2005|From Associated Press

SIEM REAP, Cambodia — Masked gunmen burst into an international school near Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temple Thursday, taking dozens of toddlers hostage and killing a 3-year-old Canadian boy they said cried too much. Police overpowered the attackers as they tried to escape after a six-hour standoff.

Furious parents waiting outside the school took revenge, bloodying three of the four hostage-takers and beating at least one to unconsciousness before police pulled them away.

The attackers, who were seeking money, barged into the school about 9:30 a.m. and herded a teacher and almost 30 nursery-school-age children into a classroom.

Scores of other children from as many as 15 countries, including the United States, managed to hide or scramble from the grounds. It was not known whether any American children were held hostage.

Parents rushed to the school and waited with soldiers and police as authorities negotiated with the attackers. As the hours stretched on, the cries of the captive children could occasionally be heard.

The attackers demanded money, weapons and a vehicle, and Cambodian officials partially complied, delivering $30,000 and a van.

The attackers got into the van with four children, but as they prepared to drive away, security forces closed the school gate and stormed the vehicle, dragging the men out, military police officer Prak Chanthoeun said.

The gang's leader, identified only as Khum, later told police he had shot the Canadian toddler in the head "because the child was crying a lot," Chanthoeun said.

Denis Richer, a Frenchman who teaches at another school in the town, identified the dead boy as Michaelka Maxyme and said he tried to comfort the father. "I asked him, 'What can I do now?' He was completely lost," Richer said.

He said the family arrived in Siem Reap about two months ago so the father could take a management position at the Hotel de la Paix, scheduled to open next month. Family members could not immediately be contacted.

Other officials said earlier that the boy was shot because authorities did not fulfill all the hostage-takers' demands, and that the assailants had threatened to shoot others.

After they were taken into custody, police discovered they had one gun among them, Chanthoeun said.

The hostage-takers had come from a district near the capital, Phnom Penh, to work in Siem Reap.

They told police they were penniless and "decided to do that to the foreign children because they believed their families are rich," Chanthoeun said.

Richer said the school staff showed skill in handling the situation.

"The children were traumatized for sure, but the teacher was clever enough to play with them," he said. "They were playing together and having some chocolate, and they were singing a little bit. So the teacher was trying to get them away from that mess."

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