SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA — South Korean military officials used a stand-in to portray a captured runaway soldier to deceive journalists as the real fugitive was taken to a hospital following a failed suicide attempt, a Defense Ministry official said Tuesday.
The ploy was used because the fugitive needed swift medical treatment and the media could have caused a delay, said a ministry official who requested anonymity citing department rules.
He said two ambulances were used, one carrying the injured fugitive and the other with another soldier whose body and face were covered by a blanket. The decoy was carried into the hospital in the eastern city of Gangneung as photographers snapped pictures.
The official said the ambulance carrying the real fugitive entered the hospital through its basement.
He said it wasn’t clear if military personnel at the hospital had directly lied to dozens of journalists waiting there. But he said the personnel apparently deceived journalists into mistaking the stand-in for the fugitive.
The ministry made the acknowledgment following speculation from South Korean media that a stand-in had been used.
The official said the decoy had been requested by personnel sent from the hospital. However, a public affairs official at GangNeung Asan Hospital denied that, saying a hospital official only asked about using a decoy ambulance and the hospital wasn’t aware that a stand-in was being used. The official spoke on condition of anonymity in line with office policy.
The 22-year-old sergeant surnamed Yim fled after allegedly killing five colleagues and wounding seven others Saturday. He is accused of firing at troops chasing him on Sunday, injuring a platoon leader. He shot himself on Monday before being captured, according to the Defense Ministry.
It’s not known what caused Yim to go on the alleged shooting spree. He was to finish his mandatory military duty in September. Initial personality tests in April of last year put him within a group of soldiers who need special attention and are unfit for frontline duty, according to the Defense Ministry. But tests last November concluded he had improved and could serve in frontline areas, defense officials said.
Shooting rampages against fellow soldiers happen occasionally in South Korea’s military. The country maintains a conscription system that requires all able-bodied men to serve about two years because of threats from North Korea.