Katmandu, Nepal x It was a pleasant family gathering in Nepal's royal palace, a soiree in a gardenside billiard room and adjoining parlor that King Birendra liked to host every Friday night.
The king's son, Crown Prince Dipendra, was tending bar. He mixed one of his cousins a drink, and the assembled relatives chatted as they waited for dinner. At about 9 p.m., Dipendra slipped out of the gathering.
A short while later, he reappeared, wearing an army uniform, his cap pulled low over his face and an Uzi submachine gun and an M-16 assault rifle in his hands. Dipendra strode into an adjacent room where his father was sitting and shot him with one of the powerful automatic weapons. Through the open door, a witness "could see the king's face with utter astonishment on it."
This account of Friday night's horrifying palace massacre was provided Tuesday by an immediate relative of that eyewitness, a member of the royal family. The relative, who spoke for the witness on condition of anonymity, gave the first detailed description of how Dipendra, 29, apparently shot Birendra, 55, and eight other relatives dead, injured three others and then shot himself in the head.
While the account provided by the witness' relative could not be independently verified, because no one else connected to the palace has come forward to describe what happened, it not only squares with the first official version of events, but also contains accurate descriptions of which family members were killed or wounded and of the surroundings in which they were shot.
After killing his father, the crown prince sprayed machine gun and rifle fire through the sitting rooms for 15 minutes. Everyone was too stunned to react, the relative said, remaining where they stood or sat as bullets flew around them and victims fell to the floor.
"He said nothing at all throughout the whole episode, and there was no expression whatever on his face," the relative said. "He just fired indiscriminately."
At one point Dipendra's mother, Queen Aishwarya, and his younger brother, Prince Nirajan, followed him into the garden. "That's when they got shot," the relative said.
When Dipendra moved back inside, his uncle, Prince Dhirendra, approached him and pleaded, "'Put the gun down; you've done enough damage.' That's when he got shot." Two women, an aunt and a cousin, rushed to help the wounded Dhirendra. "That's when they got shot."
As he lay bleeding, the relative said, Dhirendra urged one of the women to reach into his pocket for a mobile phone to call for outside help, but she was unable to do so because she had been shot in the arm and shoulder.
Finally, Dipendra went outside into the garden again, and more shots were heard. "That must have been the time he was shooting himself," the relative said.