SEOUL — A U.S. Army corporal told police that she fired a BB gun “for fun” late Saturday night in a crowded entertainment district near U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan, triggering a series of events that ended with another soldier being shot by a Korean police officer.
According to the chief detective at the Yongsan Police Station, the woman said she fired the BB gun three or four times as she was riding in a car with two other soldiers through Itaewon. One of the BBs struck a South Korean man who then placed an emergency call to police at 11:53 p.m., saying that foreigners were shooting at him in front of the Hamilton Hotel.
It’s still unclear whether the corporal intentionally aimed at bystanders, but police said two civilians were hit during the exchange, sustaining non life-threatening injuries. Officials had previously said nobody was injured.
Police unsuccessfully tried to stop the soldiers’ car on a main road outside the hotel, pushing against the vehicle and breaking a window with their batons. After the car pulled away, a South Korean officer jumped in a taxi and followed them.
It was unclear how many police vehicles became involved in the chase, but officers pursued the soldiers to east Seoul and fired one warning shot and three live rounds at the car around 12:10 a.m. Sunday, wounding a private first class in the vehicle.
Police say the shooting was justified because they felt threatened, and have claimed the driver reversed the car four times, at one point striking an officer in the knee and running over his foot.
The soldiers drove away and the two male soldiers returned to U.S. Army Garrison Yongsan around 1 a.m. after dropping the corporal off at a nearby hotel, police said.
The soldiers initially told U.S. military police that the private had been shot by Arabs before admitting he had been shot by South Korean police. Police found their car in a neighborhood near the garrison Monday morning, according to media reports.
“It appears this was horseplay that led to greater consequences,” a source close to the investigation said Wednesday, referring to the firing of the BB gun.
On Wednesday, police said that, during a second round of questioning, the corporal and a staff sergeant, who admitted to driving the car, gave conflicting accounts of what happened.
The corporal claims the staff sergeant drove during the entire incident. However, the staff sergeant told police he was unable to drive because he had glass in his eyes, and turned the wheel over to the private, Yonhap News reported.
Who was driving the car could be a key factor as officials decide what charges to levy against each soldier.
It was also unclear whether the corporal was the only person to fire shots, or whether the other two soldiers fired BB guns as well. Police believe there were three guns in the car, at least two of which the soldiers bought in Itaewon. The Americans apparently threw the guns out of the car during the chase, police said.
It was not clear when the purchases were made, but police say the weapon was a BB gun that shoots plastic bullets, and had previously described it as a “toy gun.”
South Korean police on Tuesday took the unusual step of questioning the injured soldier on his post because he had not been cleared by doctors to leave the hospital. The wife of one of the soldiers, who police say met the two male soldiers at an entry gate to the garrison, has also been questioned.
Eighth Army spokesman Col. Andrew Mutter said the soldier remains in stable condition with a gunshot wound to his upper body in the intensive care unit at the Brian Allgood Community Hospital.
The military will decide whether to press charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice after the case is prosecuted in the Korean judicial system.
Korean police and the military say they do not believe alcohol was involved in the incident, though the chief said the soldiers admitted to drinking cocktails at some point that night.
Police said they might give the soldiers lie detector tests, and plan also to interview witnesses and review CCTV footage from along the chase route.