The four dog thieves whom police say caused the deaths of three teenagers in Ho Chi Minh City gave themselves up on Sunday night.
The four suspects, Ho Ngoc Thuan, 27, Ho Van Hieu, 20, and Ho Thanh An and Le Minh Hau, both 19, were placed into police custody pending further investigation, news website VietNamNet reported.
They have admitted to attacking three teenage boys with a kind of improvised stun gun – one made from a slingshot connected to motorbike batteries – as they chased them through Cu Chi District.
Thuan had asked the other three, all residents of nearby Hoc Mon District, to steal dogs and resell them for money. The group brought along the gun to help catch the dogs.
After stealing three dogs, the group began to head home when Huynh Kim Bao, 19, Nguyen Minh Phuong and Pham Nguyen Quoc Huu (both 18) appeared on a single motorbike intent to chase them down.
The dog thieves said they fired at the boys after the trio, riding a single motorbike, attempted to slash them with knives.
The fatal shot missed Bao, who was driving, and hit Phuong, causing all three to fall.
Forensic test results from Cu Chi District police revealed that the three local teenagers had died of cerebral injuries caused by the fall.
Bao died on the spot while Phuong and Huu succumbed to their injuries, several hours later at hospital.
Police suspected a stun gun based on bruises found on Bao and Phuong’s bodies.
Bao had two 0.5-1 millimeter spots in scattered on the left part of his forehead.
Phuong had two shallow holes and bruises on his right arm.
Lieutenant Colonel Tra Van Hon, a chief investigator for the district police, said the case is “extremely serious.”
Hon said dog thieves using improvised stun guns have been rampant in the area.
Though the weapons are designed to take down dogs, they're highly dangerous and have been used to attack citizens who attempt to intervene, the officer told news site VTC News.
Police have recovered the dead boys' motorbike and three knives measuring around 60 centimeters each, in addition to the dog thieves’ weapons.
Nguyen Ngoc Duc, an eyewitness, told a VnExpress reporter that he heard a very fast bike approaching and went outside door to see three boys chasing the thieves on two motorbikes.
Duc said one of the passengers drew a knife and tried to slash people from the other motorbikes before the bike suddenly tumbled onto the street.
“I ran over [to the boys]," he said. "One died on the spot; the other two were hardly breathing. Their motorbike was stuck between an electric pole and a house wall.”
Both Bao and Huu’s families, like many in Tan Thanh Dong Commune, have had their pet dogs stolen recently.
Huu told a friend that, while chasing a group of dog thieves a few days before his death, he'd narrowly dodged a stun gun attack.
The thieves had threatened revenge, according to one of Huu's friends.
While many families in Vietnam raise dogs as pets, many also consider the animals a delicacy.
Restaurants pay between VND100,000 and VND200,000 (US$4.8-$9.6) per dog.
The crimes persist even though thieves have been caught and beaten to death in communal mob violence. Dog thieves were murdered in the northern province of Hai Duong in May 2013 and Thanh Hoa Province the following month.
As the stolen dogs are often valued at less than VND2 million (the threshold for criminal charges) dog thieves only face an administrative fine, inspiring some victims to exact revenge on the thieves rather than handing them over to police.
Locals said all three boys were nice neighbors who dropped out of school to help their poor families.
Le Thi Thuy, Phuong’s mother, told VTC News she fell apart when she learned her son had been killed.
Following his death, she must feed the family alone on her monthly wage of US$100.
Her husband has been unable to work for a long time due to a bout with lung disease. Phuong used to give her the money he earned working on various construction projects.
“At home, he’s gentle as a lamb. I don’t get why he acted so foolishly,” the teary Thuy said.
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