Murders that many saw coming
And his older brother knew that could mean trouble - violent trouble.
It was early this month, and the older brother - who asked that his name be withheld in interviews with the JoongAng Ilbo - concluded that the 42-year-old Ahn was on a downward spiral. He needed to do something before Ahn caused harm, as he had in the past.
The older Ahn phoned a psychiatric hospital in Jinju, South Gyeongsang, on April 5. He wanted to have his brother hospitalized.
He asked the Jinju hospital for records showing that Ahn was treated there for schizophrenia for six months from late 2011. The older brother was also trying to disguise his own role in having his younger brother hospitalized - in case he retaliated someday.
The hospital made clear it could not help, no matter how hard he insisted. The older Ahn needed to produce a power of attorney for his brother - or the younger Ahn had to personally visit the hospital to claim his records.
Twelve days later, the younger Ahn poured gasoline around the living room of his fourth floor apartment in Jinju, set fire to a piece of newspaper and hurled it on the flammable liquid at around 4:30 a.m. He walked down to the second floor of his building and allegedly stood near a staircase, stabbing neighbors trying to escape to safety.
Five were killed, including a 12-year-old girl, and six were injured.
His older brother had been correct. Ahn descended into homicidal madness.
Ahn’s neighbors are criticizing local police for having ignored their complaints about his increasingly erratic and disturbing behavior. Neighbors called the police number, 112, six times since he moved into the apartment complex in Jinju in December 2015. Most of the calls were made within the past year.
Yet Ahn was charged only a single time for property damage after he was caught on CCTV throwing his own feces at the door of an upstairs neighbor. That was on March 12 - a month before the fire and killings. The CCTV was installed by the neighbor to gather proof of Ahn’s threats. Ahn was caught on camera following the neighbor’s 18-year-old niece, who was living in the apartment. That niece was fatally stabbed allegedly by Ahn on March 17.
Now, the suspect’s brother is taking a jab at the country’s medical system, claiming he tried to force the younger Ahn into receiving treatment in the weeks before the tragedy, but failed due to red tape.
The first time Ahn was officially diagnosed with schizophrenia was 2010, after he was criminally charged with slashing a college student he didn’t know in the face with a knife in downtown Jinju. He was convicted of assault, sentenced to two years in prison with a three-year probation, and sent to the National Forensic Psychiatry Hospital in Gongju, South Chungcheong, a mental hospital run by the Ministry of Justice for criminals with mental illnesses.
After Ahn was discharged, his family forced him into a psychiatric hospital in Jinju in late 2011. Families of a schizophrenic patient can hospitalize their relative if, among other circumstances, two immediate family members agree to the admission. After six months of treatment, Ahn was discharged in 2012. Through July 2016, he received outpatient treatment from the Jinju hospital.
That was the last medical attention Ahn ever sought. He told his family he didn’t want to take medication because it made him feel disoriented, especially at work.
His symptoms grew worse and he began bullying his neighbors in mid-2018. His brother tried to help but Ahn refused to seek treatment. He held a grudge against his family after they forced him into the hospital in 2011.
After the brother’s entreaties to the Jinju psychiatric hospital on March 5 failed, he got in touch with the local prosecutors’ office, wondering if it could force his brother to receive treatment. It was another dead end, and prosecutors told him to try the Jinju city government or the younger Ahn’s community center instead.
The community center said it could do nothing. A worker at the community center said he previously worked for the city government and knew the system well. But he doubted Jinju City Hall could help with such a delicate and serious request.
The older Ahn learned that, under the law, the Jinju mayor had the authority to force Ahn into hospitalization. He made a request, which was rejected for an unspecified reason.
According to interviews conducted by the JoongAng Ilbo with numerous people who know the younger Ahn, including his mother, Ahn was introverted and didn’t have many friends as a young child, but didn’t get into trouble. The family was poor, and when Ahn graduated from middle school in 1993, he decided to start working. (High school education is not compulsory in Korea.) Ahn mostly worked in factories.
In his early 20s, Ahn injured his back at a factory in Gimhae, South Gyeongsang. He tried to get compensation for the accident from the company, but failed.
According to people who knew him, that’s when his personality took a turn for the worse.
Ahn moved from one factory to another, until 2008, at age 31, he hurt his back again at a factory run by a conglomerate in Changwon, South Gyeongsang. Ahn applied for compensation again, and failed.
He became angry.
After he was discharged from the Gongju mental hospital in 2011, Ahn started punching passersby for no reason. Ahn has told police and the local press that he committed his alleged murders “out of anger” because he had been “disadvantaged” by the Jinju city government, society and former employers, without detailing how. Police are looking into the possibility that his failures to receive workplace compensation could have been the prime source of his rage.
BY SHIN SUNG-SIK, LEE EUN-JI, KIM YOON-HO AND NAMGUNG MIN [firstname.lastname@example.org]