TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- Police fired shots in the air at a Bombing Handan Festival yesterday to apprehend two teens who had stolen a Buddha statue worth NT$640,000 (US$21,353) in a smash and grab from a store in Taitung City on Tuesday (Dec. 19), reported Apple Daily.
On Tuesday, the two teens, surnamed Huang (黃) and Chen (陳), both aged 17, who are currently out of school, smashed a store window with an ax to make off with a gold Guanyin (觀音, Goddess of Mercy) statue. The statue had been made in Hong Kong 20 years ago using a rare electroplating process, and though customers had offered NT$1 million for the piece, the owner refused to sell it as it had become a prized possession.
After viewing CCTV footage, police found that the two teens had ridden an unlicensed scooter before abandoning it. Once they found the scooter, they tracked down its owner, who said he had lent it to Chen.
Scene of the crime. (CNA image)
Police received word that the two suspects were going to attend the Bombing Handan Festival in Beinan Township in Taitung County yesterday. At 4 p.m., in the midst of the chaotic cacophony of fireworks firing off during the raucous festival, a member of the police search unit identified Chen and calmly tapped him on the shoulder to ask him about the whereabouts of Huang.
As Chen took police on a detour, Huang spotted the officers and took off running. However police were soon able to chase him down and pin him on the ground.
As police tried to restrain Huang, an angry mob of 200 temple festival participants and worshipers surrounded the police and repeatedly shouted "police brutality!" Soon, the ranks of agitated onlookers began to swell even more, and incredibly even many of the men dressed as "Handan" joined the fray.
In an effort to get the crowd to back off, a plainclothes officer fired shots in the air as other officers raised their guns in the air. In response, the members of the crowd shouted "The police are shooting, let's fire too!" During the struggle, Chen kicked a police officer.
Once the police finally were able to apprehend the two suspects, they took them into custody for questioning. During the questioning, Chen claimed that he was solely responsible for stealing the Guanyin statue, before dropping it off at a prearranged location for his accomplice Huang, who was to then sell it.
The Buddha statue before it was robbed and damaged. (CNA image)
Huang denied seeing the Guanyin statue and insisted that Chen made off with it on his own. After further investigations by the police, they were able to locate the statue in an abandoned car in Taitung City, however the statue was found to be badly warped.
Police believe other accomplices were involved in the case and will continue their investigation into the robbery.
Video of the confrontation between police and festival worshipers uploaded by Philip Matthew Charlier.
The most famous celebration of Lantern Festival in Taitung is the Bombing of Master Handan. In Taiwanese folklore, Handan is a god of wealth, who is afraid of the cold.
During the parade held during Lantern Festival, volunteers carrying the "Handan" wear only a red headscarf, an amulet and red shorts. The residents in Taitung "warm" him with firecrackers and bottle rockets as he passes, which is considered a good way to win this god's favor.
Bombing of Master Handan in Taitung. (CNA image)