MANILA, Philippines - Dismissed police senior inspector Rolando Mendoza shot and killed all of his eight hostages, according to initial forensic analysis on the spent shells recovered at the scene, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said yesterday.
PNP spokesman Senior Superintendent Agrimero Cruz Jr. said of the 65 spent shells from an M-16 rifle recovered at the scene, 58 of them came from the firearm used by Mendoza in executing the hostages.
Cruz said the seven other spent shells that were recovered inside the bus are still being studied to determine their origin.
He made the announcement yesterday in an effort to downplay suspicions that friendly fire from the police Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team might have killed some of the hostages during the assault.
“With a degree of certainty, we can say that the victims were shot by Rolando Mendoza,” Cruz told a media briefing.
“As of the moment, aside from the account of the Hong Kong nationals on what really happened, he (Mendoza) threatened to shoot the two passengers at the front (of the bus) then five of the hostages tried to fight back but he killed three of them and beat one of them with his Armalite (M-16 rifle),” he said.
Cruz said their initial findings showed two of the hostages who fought back were wounded and the three others were shot in the head.
Cruz cited an eyewitness account that Mendoza really wanted to kill the hostages by shooting them in the head one by one to highlight his demands.
Mendoza, a decorated police officer who had been sacked over extortion charges, took a busload of Hong Kong tourists hostage in Manila on Monday last week, demanding to be reinstated. This led to a siege and muddled police negotiations that ended bloodily, with Mendoza and eight of the tourists shot dead.
The bungled rescue has enraged Hong Kong and embarrassed the Philippine government, which has called for an investigation of the incident.
Mendoza earlier showed good faith during the negotiations and released some of the hostages before the crisis took a turn for the worse.
Police hostage negotiators said Mendoza had turned violent and vented his frustrations on the hostages after failing to secure his demand to be reinstated to the police force.
Cruz said that further investigation of Mendoza had found in addition to charges of extortion that led to his dismissal from the force early this year, he was also accused of other crimes.
He said Mendoza had been charged in the 1990s with robbery and rape but that the case was dismissed because the alleged victims failed to show up in court.
Cruz made a Power Point presentation to the media showing all the victims died from gunshot wounds.
The presentation also showed the M-16 rifle used by Mendoza was positive of gunpowder nitrates, meaning it was repeatedly fired during the hostage crisis.
Cruz said the forensic investigation also revealed Mendoza did not use his .45 automatic during the assault.
He added the paraffin tests on Mendoza’s body also revealed positive results of gunpowder residues.
The hostage drama ended in a hail of gunfire in a botched rescue attempt played out on television screens around the world that was riddled with police errors.
Eight Hong Kong tourists were killed in the incident, triggering a public outrage over the mishandling of the crisis and investigations over whether the hostages were indeed killed by Mendoza or by police weapons.
No friendly fire
The PNP, however, validated the statements of a survivor of the incident narrating how Mendoza went on a shooting spree.
Chan Kwok Chu Joe, now recuperating in Hong Kong from injuries he sustained during the crisis narrated to Hong Kong Headline News the crucial moments when Mendoza started shooting them one by one.
Cruz stressed Chan’s firsthand account of the incident also further diminished speculations on the possibility that some hostages may have been hit by friendly fire.
Chan’s detailed account of the incident bolstered initial findings of forensic investigators that Mendoza fired at least 59 shots inside the bus as indicated by recovered empty cartridge cases, he said.
Chan said Mendoza treated the hostages violently. “The gunman made sure that every bullet was targeted and aimed at the head of each and every hostage,” Chan was quoted by the Chinese-language Hong Kong Headline News as saying.?Chan described how he and four other hostages attempted to subdue Mendoza.
He said Mendoza managed to evade their attack by firing his M-16 rifle, killing three of the hostages instantly in the burst of automatic gunfire.?Chan also described how Mendoza shot their tour guide he identified as Mr. Tse in the head.
Chan said he tried to shield himself from Mendoza’s gunfire using a bagful of bottled water but the bullets penetrated and nearly severed his arms.?Police investigators are reconstructing the crime scene to get a clearer picture of the entire incident particularly the critical moments when Mendoza began shooting the hostages when the SWAT launched the assault.
The PNP’s Post Critical Incident Management Committee (PCIMC), the body tasked to make a technical analysis of the hostage incident, also released its findings on the events that led to its bloody ending.
The PCIMC said the crisis began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at around 8:50 p.m. on Aug. 23.
Like his brother
The hostage crisis went haywire after Mendoza became distraught in seeing his younger brother Gregorio struggling while being hauled to a police van.
It was when Mendoza forced the issue and started shooting the hostages, police said.
Police negotiators blamed Gregorio for provoking his brother.
Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim said he had ordered Gregorio to be “restrained” so as not to interfere with the ongoing negotiations to end the hostage crisis.
Gregorio is currently on bail on allegations that he had a hand in the hostage attempt of his brother.
Gregorio though maintained he had nothing to do with the incident.
Cruz added Gregorio is being investigated for inciting his brother not to surrender unless his service firearm that was confiscated from him was returned.
Cruz said Gregorio was charged for being AWOL, but the case was dropped on June 12, 2006.
Gregorio was charged for misconduct for abuse of authority but the case was also dropped and closed on Jan. 13, 2005.
Cruz said Gregorio was also charged for simple misconduct for slapping and threatening PO1 Alexander Kim Sobrepena on June 30, 2004. He was suspended for 15 days on Jan. 18, 2005.
Gregorio was also charged with grave misconduct and was ordered dismissed from the service effective June 26, 2002 as ordered by the Police Internal Affairs Service but was later reinstated.
There was another information that Gregorio was charged for misconduct for refusing to pay a toll fee but the case was dropped in March 2002, Cruz said.