Woo Bum-kon (or Wou Bom-kon) (February 24, 1955 – April 27, 1982) was a South Korean policeman who killed 56 people and wounded 35 others in several villages in Uiryeong County, South Gyeongsang Province, South Korea, during the night from April 26 to April 27, 1982, before committing suicide.
His rampage remained the deadliest known mass murder committed by a lone gunman in modern history until the Norway attacks of July 22, 2011.
Woo had served in the South Korean Marines until 1978. In December 1980 he was hired by the National Police in Busan and settled in the village of Torongni in December 1981, after being transferred to the local police station in Kungyu.
Woo had an argument with his live-in girlfriend’s mother, Chun Mal-soon (전말순), on the afternoon of April 26, 1982, after she had woken him by swatting a fly on his chest. Enraged, he left the house and went to the police station, where he reported for duty at 4:00 p.m. According to early reports, he began drinking heavily, though eyewitnesses later stated that Woo did not appear drunk during his rampage, and according to local officials, he would have been unable to cover 4 km of difficult, rocky terrain while intoxicated.
At about 7:30 p.m., Woo returned home, punched and kicked his girlfriend and smashed the furniture, before making his way to the reservists’ armory and gathered several weapons, consisting of two M2 carbines, 144 or 180 rounds of ammunition, and seven hand grenades. Some reports stated that the other officers were at a meeting, and he therefore managed to grab the weapons unnoticed, though others mentioned that he had intimidated the guards to gain access.
– Rampage Begins
At approximately 9:30 p.m., Woo shot his first victim and entered the local post office, where he killed three phone operators and cut off the telephone lines. He next went to Torongni, where he threw a grenade and shot at passers-by in the marketplace, killing six people. He also wounded Chun Mal-soon, who had gone to investigate after hearing shots in the village. From that point on, he proceeded from village to village, taking advantage of his position as a police officer to gain entry to the houses and shoot their inhabitants.
At 10:30 p.m., Woo took 18-year-old Kim Ju-dong (김주동) hostage and moved to Ungye-Ri (운계리), where he ordered the boy to get him a soft drink from a grocery store owned by 52-year-old Shin We-do (신외도). After getting what he had asked for, Woo killed the boy and then attacked the store owner and his family. Shin We-do managed to escape after being shot in the leg, though his wife Son Won-jeom (손원점) and his daughters Chang-sun (창순) and Su-jeong (수정) were killed. Woo continued his shooting at the market-place, killing a total of 18 people in that village, before making his way towards Pyongchon-Ni (평촌리).
At Pyongchon-Ni, he shot a family of four in their beds and then went to a house, where a wake was in progress. When the owner of the house saw the armed policeman and asked what had happened, Woo explained that there was an alert as North Korean agents had been spotted. The man invited Woo into the house for dinner, during which the latter complained about his small salary and his transfer from Pusan to the countryside. Woo eventually began shooting at the guests after one of them had remarked that his ammunition didn’t look real. He killed twelve people in the house and a further eight in the streets, thus leaving a total of 24 people dead in Pyongchon.
– Police response, suspect’s Death
Although police were alerted within minutes of the first shots being fired, it took them an hour to gather a team of 37 officers to search for the gunman, and the national police headquarters in Seoul were not informed until 1:40 a.m. Around that time, just 2.5 miles from the police station in Kungryu, Woo found refuge in a farmhouse belonging to 68-year-old Suh In-Su (서인수), whom he told that he was chasing a Communist infiltrator, and that the family should gather in the main room of the house so he could protect them. When the family gathered at his request, he held them hostage.
Two hours later, police eventually caught up with him, and as forces closed in, Woo detonated two grenades, killing himself and three of his hostages. Mr. Suh himself survived gravely injured. Four rounds of ammunition and one hand grenade were recovered by police from inside the farmhouse.
– Immediate aftermath
When the rampage finally ended, 55 people and Woo himself were dead, while 36 others were wounded, six of them seriously. One of the injured, a child who had been shot, died on May 8, bringing the number of people killed by the gunman to 56. At that time, 35 people were still being treated in hospitals in Jinju and Masan.
Chun Mal-soon later said that her boyfriend “suffered from an inferiority complex and had been bothered by villagers’ comments on their living together unmarried”. Later on, the provincial chief of police was suspended, and four other officers were arrested for negligence of duty.
Those known to have been killed in the rampage are:
- Son Jin-tae (손진태), 26
- Jeon Un-suk (전은숙), 23
- Park Kyung-suk (박경숙), 19
- Jeon Jin-seok (전진석), 36
- Jeon In-bae (전인배)
- Gang Pan-im (강판임), 51
- Kim Ju-dong (김주동), 18
- Son Won-jeom (손원점), 51
- Shin Chang-sun (신창순), 13, daughter of Son Won-jeom
- Shin Su-jeong (신수정), 10, daughter of Son Won-jeom
The Interior Minister of South Korea, Suh Chung-hwa and the national police chief, A Eung-mo, offered to resign as a form of atonement for Woo’s rampage. Suh Chung-hwa, being held responsible for the incident by president Chun Doo-hwan, laid his office down on April 29, and Roh Tae-woo was appointed Interior Minister.
A special parliamentary team was formed, consisting of 19 parliamentarians and led by Home Affairs Committee chairman Kim Chong-hoh, to investigate the shooting and its disastrous handling by the police. Furthermore, the South Korean Cabinet decided to pay compensations to the victims and their families.