Six prisoners commit suicide after shoot-out in Taiwan prison seige
The inmates - all serving long sentences - died after feeling 'helpless' and realising there was little chance they could escape, says police chief.
A prison siege in Taiwan ended on Thursday morning after six armed inmates who had held a warden and a head guard hostage committed suicide by shooting themselves.
It followed a 14-hour stand-off at the jail in the south of the island, with hundreds of police and marksmen deployed around the prison.
The prisoners killed themselves after a shoot-out with police at Kaohsiung Prison, Deputy Justice Minister Chen Ming-tang told a news conference in Taipei.
“Four of them used handguns they seized from the prison to shoot themselves, while two others added several shots to make sure the four were dead before killing themselves with rifles also taken from the jail,” Chen said.
The two hostages were unharmed and there were no reports other injuries.
The prisoners had been convicted of murder, drug-related offences, burglary and a range of other crimes and were serving jail terms ranging from 25 to 46 years, said Chen Chia-chin, the head of the Kaohsiung police department.
“As the inmates were all serving long sentences and knew there was little chance they could escape, they’d felt helpless,” he told reporters and this may have led them to kill themselves.
Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou said the inmates action in taking hostages was unacceptable, but he felt regret about the outcome of the siege and offered his condolences to the families of those who had died.
He also ordered the Justice Ministry to step up prison reforms within a week.
The siege started at about 4pm on Wednesday when inmate Cheng Li-te, the head of a Kaohsiung-based faction of the triad group the Bamboo Union Gang, led five other cellmates to the prison’s medical ward, claiming they needed treatment.
The six, who had worked at the prison’s sewing factory, had stolen a pair of scissors which they used as a weapon to threaten medical officers.
They took a key to the prison’s reception room, but found there was no way to escape from the area and took two guards hostage.
They then headed to the prison’s armoury where they seized four rifles, six handguns and more than 200 bullets.
Hundreds of police were called to surround the prison, Deputy Justice Minister Chen said, adding that the prison’s deputy warden, Lai Chen-jung, and the head guard, Wang Shih-tsang offered to swap places with the two junior staff and become hostages.
Head warden Chen Shih-chih later asked to exchange places with Lai and the gang agreed.
The prisoners, who had reportedly been protesting against unfair treatment, had demanded safe passage from the jail.
They tried to escape through the main gate, but found it locked and later went to a side gate where they encountered dozens of police officers and exchanged fire with them, Deputy Justice Minister Chen said.
No injuries were reported during the shoot-out and the inmates moved back to a prison office.
About 250 officers were stationed around the prison and sharpshooters deployed in nearby buildings.
At about 3.30am the inmates released head guard Wang and multiple gunshots were heard.
Half an hour later, the inmates shot in the air as several local television companies tried to use aerial cameras to film the siege from above the prison, Chen said.
At about 5.40am, all six inmates committed suicide, he said.
Chen confirmed that a handwritten letter from Cheng, demanding parole, was handed to a negotiator earlier in the night.
Cheng said in the note that it was unfair that former Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian had been granted parole simply because of his “political status”.
The former president was jailed for corruption in 2009, but granted parole last month on medical grounds.
The inmate also complained that prison pay was only NT$200 (HK$50) per day and demanded an increase.
The bodies of the inmates have been taken to a hospital in Kaohsiung for autopsies to be carried out.