In a mysterious act of violence that has appalled witnesses and puzzled local authorities, the 67-year-old deputy chief monk of a pagoda in Kampong Speu’s Samrong Tong district was shot in the head by an unknown assailant Saturday, minutes into a sermon he was delivering to mark the anniversary of a death.
Khuth Sophal, police chief of Samrong Tong district, said yesterday that the ceremony was set up by a family in Taing Krouch commune’s Thmey village to remember their son, who had been killed in a traffic accident one year ago.
At around 4:30pm, the monk, Moeung Om from the Ang Sneat pagoda, got up to preach. He was sitting on a chair while others sat on the floor. Behind him, the organisers of the ceremony had hung a curtain, creating a stage-like effect. Om began talking about living an ethical life, doing the right thing and following the teachings of the Buddha.
Suddenly, the sound of a gunshot rang out and Om slumped over, dead.
“The monk was shot in the head from behind, and the bullet just went through his head, which caused him to die immediately at the site,” Sophal said. “This incident surprised and shocked the people who participated in the ceremony.”
Kong Doem, 65, the father of the man being remembered at the ceremony, confirmed the shooting and said that Om had only been talking for about five or six minutes when the bullet ripped through the curtain.
The gunshot terrified those in attendance, many of whom scattered in fear, while others ran and tried to attend to Om.
No one saw the attacker.
“Moeung Om had no problem with others in the past, and the people like and respect him,” Doem said.
When authorities arrived on the scene to collect evidence, they scoured the area and came up empty-handed, only adding to the mystery behind the shooting.
Sophal, the district police chief, said no bullet or bullet casing had been found, even though the victim clearly had a bullet hole in the back of his head and one in the front, as if it had passed through.
The police did see the curtain with a bullet hole in it, and the residue found on the material suggests that the shooter was standing near or right behind the curtain when the fatal shot was fired.
“Until now the authorities have been searching and asking the laymen and laywomen, including some monks in Ang Sneat pagoda, in order to get some hints for this murder case,” Sophal said.
Sam Sak, director of the crime office at the Kampong Speu provincial police station, said authorities called one former monk from Ang Sneat pagoda – who was defrocked in the past month – for questioning, but said that he denied any involvement in the shooting.
Om’s death marks the second murder of a monk so far this year.
Earlier this month, a teenage monk named Ly Toeng was charged with violence in aggravating circumstances causing unintentional death after he allegedly stabbed Thach Khan, a senior monk at Phnom Penh’s Samaki Rainsy pagoda.
Many monks at Samaki Rainsy pagoda have been politically active, attending marches and demonstrations.
Khan was involved in protests in Phnom Penh against the Vietnamese after an embassy official said Kampuchea Krom had historically belonged to Vietnam, not Cambodia. Ultimtely, however, it was unclear whether politics played any role whatsoever in Khan’s death.
Toeng told police that Khan had beaten him, which led to the confrontation, but another monk dismissed the claim. If guilty, Toeng could face 15 years in prison.
In the case of Om, no suggestion was made yesterday that political differences could have motivated the shooter.
Police are continuing their investigation.