School headmaster charged in fatal gold robbery in Thailand

BUSABA SIVASOMBOON

BANGKOK (AP) — An elementary school headmaster said Thursday he planned a gold shop robbery in Thailand due to personal and financial problems and apologized to the families of the three people who were killed.

A 2-year-old boy was among the victims of the shooting earlier this month that caused public outrage and increased pressure for a swift arrest.

Police arrested Prasitthichai Khaokaew, 38, early Wednesday and said he confessed to his crimes during interrogation.

During a news conference held at the national police headquarters in Bangkok, Prasitthichai was allowed to talk to reporters through a phone call from where he is being detained.

“I am so sorry, and I apologize to the victims and their families, especially to little brother Triton,” Prasitthichai told reporters, addressing the 2-year-old victim by his first name. He denied that he deliberately shot the toddler and other victims, and said he opened fired to intimidate shoppers and security guards to let him flee easily.

Prasitthichai said he planned the robbery a few days before he executed it and that personal and financial problems were his motives.

Police General Suwat Chaengyodsuk, the chief investigator, said the suspect has been charged with three counts of murder, robbery and illegal gun possession. Police asked the Bangkok criminal court to allow them to detain Prasitthichai for further investigation.

Security footage of the Jan. 9 robbery in Lopburi province, about 145 kilometers (90 miles) north of Bangkok, showed a man dressed in full-face balaclava and camouflage trousers approached the store in a mall, carrying a pistol with a long silencer.

He opened fire, spraying shots at staff and passers-by. The toddler was hit as he walked by with his mother. A security guard and a shop assistant were also killed, and four people were wounded. The robber grabbed a number of gold necklaces before fleeing.