By Mariam Mokhtar
Mohd Amar Mohd Aziz, a ten-year-old primary schoolboy from Sekolah Kebangsaan Belanga, in Parit had a lucky escape after being shot by a police sergeant on Monday October 14.
The incident happened around 4.30pm at Kampung Belanja Kiri when the policeman alleged that whilst cleaning his pistol in front of his in-laws’ house, a bullet was negligently discharged from the Walther P99 automatic, and hit Amar who was playing about 50 metres away.
The bullet entered beside Amar’s nose, and stopped at the back of his skull, near the bones at the nape of the neck (the cervical vertebrae). He was “lucky” because the bullet missed his spinal cord and the major blood vessels in the neck, by one centimetre.
Despite his injury, Amar was able to run home and alert members of his family to seek help. They first took him to a clinic in Parit, then the Batu Gajah Hospital where he was transferred to the Ipoh General Hospital. At the paediatric intensive care unit, he waited for specialists to operate and remove the bullet.
Hospital neurosurgeon Dr Cheang Chee Keong said that movement could damage the vital structures that were near the bullet and said that if Amar’s spinal cord had been hit, he could have been paralysed and damage to his voice box would have made him mute.
Hospital director, Dr Raja Lope Ahmad said that members of his medical team were in constant discussion with Amar’s family to advise them on the best option with the least risk.
On the morning of October 20, six days after the shooting incident, a team of six specialists took two hours to remove the bullet lodged in Amar’s neck. His relieved father, Mohd Azizi Abdullah said that on regaining consciousness, his son had asked for a glass of water. He said, “I am so glad that the doctors managed to conduct the operation and that my son is in a stable condition now.”
As a temporary precaution, Amar was placed in a neck brace as his neck bone had cracked from the impact of the bullet. Dr Cheang said that doctors would re-examine his neck after two months to see if further surgery was necessary, to stabilise his neck.
Amar may be on the road to recovery, but attention soon focused on the circumstances leading to the shooting. Initial reports indicate that the police sergeant was cleaning his weapon when it was fired. He was a deputy investigating officer with the Taiping police headquarters and he was on leave.
Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Leong Ah Kow said that the pistol and a magazine with 14 rounds of ammunition, which were seized after the incident, would help investigations, under Section 39 of the Firearms Act 1960. The policeman involved was detained, to assist with enquiries.
Angry citizens have expressed their outrage and concern about the incident and asked if the incident was a case of negligence, reckless abandon or bravado, by the policeman.
One man said, “Why did the policeman not surrender his gun, when he was on leave? Are there no Standard Operating Procedures (SOP)?” Another said, “If the policeman was negligent, then his superiors are also negligent. Both should be charged with dereliction of their duties.”
A former member of the armed forces said, “Safety procedures must be strictly adhered to. Safety is everyone’s responsibility. Investigations should include his superiors, not just the suspect.”
A former policewoman said, “Disciplinary action should be taken against those who neglected their duties in ensuring strict adherence to SOP and the monitoring of firearms movement. This incident gives an insight into the missing firearms highlighted by the Auditor-General’s report.”
One cynic said, “I would not be surprised if there is no further action (NFA) in this case. After all, the Home Minister advocated a policy of “Shoot first, ask questions later”. Someone else said, “If there’s a blame, then there’s a claim.”
The NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia (Suaram) has recommended that the policeman should be suspended, whilst Dr Kok Chin Leong, the president of the Malaysian Paediatric Association said that a review of existing firearms laws and the enforcement of more stringent protocols and SOPs of firearms are necessary.
The investigation into the shooting is ongoing. Initial news reports claimed that doctors had been informed that the child was hit by a bullet which ricocheted off the ground; however, witnesses allege that the shot had been fired in Amar’s direction. Moreover, a police source said that X-rays were not consistent with a bullet which had been deformed by striking the ground.
Perak police chief Acryl Sani Abdullah Sani said, “We changed our angle of investigation after taking statements from witnesses. The policeman was on leave during the incident and we want to know why he was carrying his weapon when he wasn’t on duty.”
Indicating that the “straight-forward, non-complicated and non-tricky case” would soon be closed, he assured the public that the investigations would be conducted with transparency, and that the deputy public prosecutor’s office would receive their report. He did not want the public to think that policemen were unprofessional and behaving like they were not fully trained.