(UPDATE 20 – 1:50 p.m.) MANILA – At least 38 persons are confirmed to have died at the Resorts World Manila Hotel following the rampage just after midnight Friday (June 2) by a lone gunman who then killed himself, National Capital Region Police Office Director Oscar Albayalde said.
The dead include the gunman, whose charred body was was found in Room 510 of the hotel, where police officials said he committed suicide by wrapping himself in a blanket, dousing it with gasoline and setting it alight, then apparently shooting himself in the head.
Albayalde said the 37 other fatalities, who were found in the gaming floors on the second level of the hotel, succumbed to suffocation from the fire set by the still unidentified gunman, who doused gaming tables and torched these.
Stephen James Reilly, Resorts World chief operations officer, said they could confirm 35 fatalities, not including the gunman: 22 guests — 10 females and 13 males — and 13 staff — 10 females and three males.
He declined to provide information on their identities until police forensics investigators could complete their work and the victims’ families are informed.
Resorts World released a statement Friday that said in part:
“We are committed to extending full support and assistance to the injured and the families of the deceased. This unexpected violent attack on innocent lives will not break the spirit on which Resorts World Manila was built. We ask for your prayers during these dark hours.”
“A help desk has been set up in Career Hub 1 at the ground floor of the NECC building. You may reach us at the following Company hotline numbers: 0917-872-8300 and 0917-872-8756.”
Police said the gunman, who wore a hood and black jacket, opened fire at television monitors and the door of a storeroom where chips were stored but did not aim at people. He took what police said P113 million worth of casino chips but let go of the bag where he had placed these.
The second floor, which houses the casino area’s gaming tables, and the third floor bore the brunt of the attack.
‘Robbery, not terrorism’
“Don’t panic, this is not a cause for alarm. We cannot yet attribute this to terrorism,” Dela Rosa said initially, adding that he was leaving room for the possibility that this could very well just be an armed robbery. But, he did allow the possibility the Islamic State would claim responsibility for propaganda purposes.
“We are looking into a robbery angle because he did not hurt any people but went straight to the casino chips storage room. He parked at the second floor and barged into the casino, shooting large TV screens and poured gasoline on a table setting it on fire.”
National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon sent the following message in the wake of erroneous information about the Resorts World incident:
“we are not discounting (the) possibility of even a small-scale terror attack in mmanila. thats why security forces had been in high alert. let us be calm but at same time be alert ,ready to help our security forces. let us not be unwitting tools if terror by spreading false rumors. Like claiming that the Resort world is terror-related. such claims and announcements dont help.”
The incident comes as government security forces were still locking horns with the terrorist Maute Group in Marawi City situated in Lanao del Sur Province, and which has been turned almost into a ghost city, prompting President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law over all of Mindanao.
President Duterte made sure to warn emphatically that the restricted martial law could be expanded elsewhere throughout the Philippine Archipelago if terrorist activity spills out of Mindanao.
Following confirmation of fatalities, presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella issued this statement:
“The Palace wishes to express its deep condolences to the families and friends of the victims of the Resorts World Manila’s latest incident.
“This is a reminder that civilized society has no place for this kind of violence. Thus, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has put the campaign against criminality as a centerpiece program of his administration.
The safety of citizens and the security of communities are our primordial concerns, and we hope to seek everybody’s cooperation to achieve a peaceful and fear-free environment.”
Reilly said the hotel’s fire safety systems worked without a hitch but that those who died succumbed to the thick smoke and the accompanying panic as people rushed out to safety.
Police said many of the dead were women found in a bathroom.
The Resorts World official also denied there were security lapses.
“We had an armed intruder who entered into the property, he fired his firearm, he was in combat attire,” Reilly said. “Security inside the premises do not carry firearms, only outside of the premises. They did not engage as it would escalate the situation; unfortunately the situation did escalate moving towards the gaming area.”
Police said 54 persons were rushed to different hospitals, most with minor injuries, with 18 needing to be admitted for more serious injuries such as fractures and smoke inhalation.
Jeri Ann Santiago, who works in the emergency room at the San Juan de Dios hospital, close to Resorts World, said 13 people were being treated, but more were on the way.
Most of the patients were suffering the effects of smoke inhalation and some had injuries such as fractures, she said, adding that none had gunshot wounds.
Gil Yonco, 54, stood weeping in the street at around 5 a.m. His daughter had been inside Resorts World on the second floor and called her father for help because she was getting suffocated by smoke.
He tried calling back but there was no answer. “I am very worried as a parent, I need to find her,” he said.
A hotel supervisor said the raider apparently entered the casino area at the second floor through the restaurant at the south side of the hotel in Pasay City, firing repeatedly and then torching the place.
There is a parking elevator that allows people to gain access directly to the second, third and sixth floors, one employee disclosed.
Trump: Possible terrorist attack
In Washington, DC, U.S. President Donald Trump mentioned the incident in the course of a speech, referring to it as a terrorist attack. The U.S. State Department has also asked people to avoid the area. CBS News reported that White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer acknowledged President Trump was aware of the situation, and was being given updates by his national security team.
As the drama unfolded, dozens of police trucks and a handful of huge Special Action Force vans and armored personnel carriers lined side streets near the hotel, casino and shopping mall complex.
Police were no longer allowing people to enter the road leading to the hotel, and even barred one man, who said he had gone there to check on his mother, who was in the hotel.
Earlier accounts indicated more than one suspect. A supervisor at the hotel named Jun Mangosing who was with other stay-in employees at the eighth floor, told Radio DZMM he and the others went down via the staircase, and saw several men, guns drawn, combing through the third floor, which houses private rooms of VIP casino players, including foreigners.
He said foreigners accounted for about “70 percent” of the players, including Chinese and Korean gamers.
‘Two tall men’
Ronald, a witness who worked in hotel’s maintenance, claimed he had seen two tall men wearing bonnets enter the second floor, then open fire in the air – not at the people – with “long” guns. The people then rushed to exit, breaking glass barriers in the process.
He said he had seen a woman jump out from the second floor to escape, and believed she was now dead.
The men even set fire to the place, he said.
While there were some who sustained injuries, he believed this was not because of the gunfire, but because of the rush to escape.
Resorts World Manila issued a statement through its verified Twitter account, @rwmanila, saying it was working with the police to ensure the safety of guests and employees.
“Resorts World Manila is currently on lockdown following reports of gunfire from unidentified men. The Company is working closely with the Philippine National Police to ensure that all guests and employees are safe. We ask for your prayers during these difficult times,” the statement read.
Furthermore, RSW said: “At this point, we defer to the Philippine National Police for official statements and updates on the details of the ongoing operations. All we can confirm is that 30 individuals were brought by the Company’s Safety Team to nearby hospitals for immediate medical attention. We cannot release information on the identities of the 30 individuals at this time as we have yet to inform their loved ones. Again, we appeal for your understanding and consideration.”
Meanwhile, as part of security precautions, traffic headed in the direction of NAIA 3 has been redirected.
Rescued by SWAT
Casino player Julio Silva said the second floor was filled with thick smoke after he emerged from the toilet, where he hid for 30 minutes when he first heard the gunshots.
They were then escorted to a safer spot by security men of the hotel and responding SWAT teams.
As they were trying to hide near the luggage room on the ground floor, shots rang out once again, Silva told DZMM, adding that he heard one of their rescuers said, “May tama ako [I’m hit]!”
At least one ambulance was on the scene. The Philippine Red Cross said through its Twitter account that it had responded to the incident, as well.
For its part, the airline Cebu Pacific reported that operations at NAIA Terminals 3 & 4, near Resorts World Manila, are back to normal. “However, due to the incident, there are delays in some of the morning flights. We apologize for any inconvenience this situation may have caused. The safety of our passengers is our utmost concern.”
Pasig ferry restricted after Resorts World incident
Philippine News Agency
MANILA, Philippines — The Metropolitan Manila Development Authority said the Pasig River Ferry Service will only ply the stretch from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines in Manila to Pinagbuhatan in Pasig City and vice versa on Friday.
In an advisory, the MMDA said the Malacañang Restricted Area has been closed to all vessels due to heightened security measures following the Resorts World incident. (With a report from Reuters)
Click and watch a video clip of Stephen James Reilly, Chief Operating Officer ng Resorts World Manila, at the scene briefing journalists, below: