PRINCE DIPENDRA KILLS THE ROYAL FAMILY
On June 1, 2001, Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed his father King Birendra, his mother Queen Aishwarya, his brother, his sister, his father's younger brother Prince Dhirendra, and several aunts before turning the gun on himself. After his death two days later, the late King's surviving brother Gyanendra was proclaimed King.
On a Friday night on June 1, Crown Prince Dipendra opened fire with automatic weapons on the royal family during a family gathering, killing ten people, including all immediate members of the royal family and himself. It was the worst mass murder of royals since the Romanovs were slain in 1918 during the Russian civil war. [Source: Pamela Constable, Washington Post, June 6th, 2001; Patrick French, Talk Magazine, September 2001]
One politician described the killing as "the most painful and shocking event in the history of Nepal." Prince Dipendra reportedly was upset that his family, particularly his mother Queen Aishwarya, would not let him marry the woman he wanted.
The dead included 1) King Birendra (55); 2) Queen Aishwarya (52); 3) Prince Nirajan (22, Prince Dipendra's brother); 4) Princess Shruti (24, Prince Dipendra's sister); 5) Prince Dhirendra (29, brother of the king); 6) Princess Shanti Singh (sister of the king); 7) Princess Sharada Shah (sister of the king); 8) Kumar Khadga Bikram (Sharada's husband); 9) Princess Jayant Shah (a cousin of the king);
The injured included: 1) Kumar Gorakh Bikran (Princess Shruti's husband); Princess Komal Shah (the king's cousin); Ketuki Singh (the king's cousin); Princess Shova (sister of the king)
Events Before the Killing of the Royal Family
The royal family had gathered at the Royal Palace at Narayanhiti as they often did on Friday night. About two dozen members of the royal family, of all ages, were present. Early reports suggested that the family got together to discuss Prince Dipendra's marriage plan. But according to witnesses there was no discussion of wedding plans or the prince's romantic life. There were no arguments or any indication that anything was wrong.
A relative of an eyewitness of the massacre told the Washington Post the royal family gathered in the garden side billiard room and adjoining parlor. Prince Dipendra reportedly mixed a drink for one of his cousins, drank "one or two glasses of Famous Grouse whiskey" and chatted with relatives waiting for dinner.
Capt. Rajiv Sinh Shahi, a medical doctor present at the time of the massacre, said Prince Dipendra was drinking heavily and became "really intoxicated, falling and stammering." Around 8: 15pm he was carried to a bedroom across the garden.
According to some reports while he was away he called his girlfriend Miss Rana three times in 29 minutes, and smoked a marijuana joint laced with hashish and a mysterious black substance, which some sources reported may have been opium, cocaine or heroin. His final call to Miss Rana was only 29 seconds and he reportedly told her goodnight and said he was going to bed.
After he smoked the joint he reportedly began behaving very oddly, spitting and stumbling around and had to be helped to his bedroom. A few minutes after that he went to a bathroom and vomited. After that he apparently felt well enough to change into army fatigues, black gloves, army boots and arm himself with an M-16 automatic rifle, a 12-gauge SPAS shotgun, a 9mm Glock pistol and an Uzi-like Heckler & Kock MPSK submachine gun, capable fo firing 900 rounds per minute.
Prince Dipendra Guns Down His Father
At around 9: 00pm, Prince Dipendra suddenly reappeared in the combat clothes with his cap pulled low over his face with the submachine gun in his hands. With an expression the relative of the witness said was like “Terminator 2" he fired three rounds into the ceiling then shot the king through the neck and chest. Through an open door relative of the witness told the Washington Post the witness "could see the king’s face with utter astonishment on it." His last words were reportedly directed towards his son: “What have you done?’
Shahi said, "We heard a burst a automatic gunfire. At first we thought it was a prank. There was a lot of shouting and chaos. Suddenly I heard people saying the king had been shot. I rushed to him, took of my coat and pressed it to his neck, which was obviously bleeding. He told me had been shot in the stomach but I him told not to worry, stopping the bleeding was more important."
Prince Dipendra ran away and returned with an M-16 and shot his father again and began firing at certain guests. Shahi said, the prince "started to go wild.... shooting whoever came in front of him...It was very fast and terrifying."
Afterward shooting his father, the relative of the witness said, Prince Dipendra sprayed the sitting rooms with gunfire. People were reportedly so stunned they just stood there as bullets flew past them and people around them fell. At one point the prince lost control of the guns and fired upwards, and large pieces of the ceiling crashed to the floor. The relative of the witness told the Washington Post, "He said nothing at all throughout the whole episode, and there was no expression whatever on his face. He just fired indiscriminately."
Prince Dipendra Guns Down His Sister, Mother and Uncle
As Prince Dipendra backed into the garden, his 24-year-old sister Shruti, a mother of two young girls, rushed to the king, shouting, “Oh Father, Father!” as she too was shot. The prince’s mother Queen Aishwarya, and brother, Prince Nirajan, followed him into the garden. According to Shahi they tried to "confront" Prince Dipendra and Prince Niraja tried to protect his mother by stepping in between her. Prince Dipendra apparently shot them both at point blank range.
The left side of the queen’s head was blown away. According to one report, "brain tissues, a few teeth and jaws" as well as "two earing, broken pieces of red glass bangles and blood stains were scattered here and there" at the place where the queen was shot
When Prince Dipendra came back inside his uncle, Prince Dhirendra, pleaded, "Put the gun down; you've done enough damage." That is when he was shot. Then his female cousin and aunt rushed in to help the wounded Dhirendra. That is when they were shot.
Prince Dhirendra told the women to reach inside his jacket and take his mobile phone and call for help. One of the women tried to do so but couldn't because she had been shot in the arm. Dhirendra died of his wounds. The women recovered.
Prince Dipendra Kills Himself
Prince Dipendra then went into the garden and many shots were heard. The relative told the Washington Post, "That must have been the time he was shooting himself." A few minutes later guards found Dipendra “lying on his back and gurgling.” An investigation later revealed that the prince had fired off a total of 70 rounds.
After the shooting stopped the relative said, "people got together and there was somebody saying. 'This one’s dead, that one's alive." One survivor at the hospital said, "It was unbelievable. The crown prince shot everyone."
Despite have a gaping bullet wound in his head, Prince Dipendra remained alive in a coma for 55 hours after the massacre. He died at 3: 35am on June 4. While Prince Dipendra was on life support systems, he was declared King of Nepal. According to a State Council statement: "Since the king passed away, the Council declared Crown Prince Dipendra as the King of Nepal. But, since the Crown Prince is in the hospital and is mentally and physically unsuitable to carry out his duties, the State Council appoints Prince Gyanendra as assistant to the crown.
Reaction in Kathmandu to King Birendra's Death
People in Kathmandu woke up to the news of the mass murder of King Birendra and the royal family on Saturday morning. Thousands of people began walking to the royal palace. On Saturday afternoon, Prince Gyandendra read a statement: " According to the information received by us (they) were seriously injured" after an "automatic weapon accidentally exploded."
In keeping with the Hindu custom of swift cremation, the bodies of the dead were cremated on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the killing. people took the streets with shaved heads, a Hindu sign of mourning. For months after the massacre, ordinary Nepalese visited the cremation site at Nepal’s most revered Hindu temple and just stared blankly.
There were riots in the streets of Kathmandu. Tires were burned in the streets; the army shot at people. Curfews was called from 4: 00pm to 5: 00am. People who went outside were told they could be shot or face a 30 day prison sentence. Two nights after the massacre, two people were killed, 19 were wounded by police and 450 were arrested for violating the curfew by going outside.
Survivors of the massacre could have shed light in what happened but they made no statements to the press
Why Did Prince Dipendra Kill His Family?
Many blamed Prince Dipendra’s actions on the fact he couldn’t marry the woman he loved: the beautiful, 20-something Deviyani Rana. Even though she was a member of the aristocratic Rana family, her father was a former parliament member and cabinet minister and her grandfather was an Indian maharajah, she was reportedly dismissed as "C-grade Rana," and was considered not good enough for the prince.
Queen Aiswarya reportedly objected to Prince Dipendra's choice and wanted him to enter a marriage arranged by her and the royal family. Deviyani Rana's father was regarded as blue blooded enough. The main objection was with her mother. She came from India, a strike against her. Her father (Devyania's grandfather) was a maharajah from the royal Gwailor family but her mother was a consort of the maharajah not a legal wife. The queen also reportedly thought that Deviyani Rana was too old and had been advised by her astrologers that the match was not a good omen.
Other said the reason for the massacre was drugs. The prince’s fondness of marijuana and hashish was well known. Before the massacre he was reportedly smoking a lot, 10 to 15 joints a day. There were also rumors he was a cocaine addict and was into methamphetamines.
Other said it was more the result of stress and depression. According to Patrick French who wrote an article about the disaster for Talk magazine, the prince had been taking anti-depressants and told close friends he wanted into kill his parents. Friends described one incident in which he hit his sister so hard she fell on the floor when she was seven months pregnant because she said something that annoyed him. Afterwards he demanded that she apologize to him rather than the other way around.
Prince Dipendra's Life
The royal couple's first born child, Prince Dipendra, was born on June 27, 1971. He looked like his father and attended Eton, where he was reportedly well liked by teachers and popular with other boys. Known by the nickname Dippy, he was known for his fondness of martial arts and guns. Some regarded him as a “freak” who liked “smashing watches and punching people in a ‘humorous’ way.” In Nepal, he earned a master’s degree in geography from Tribhuvan University.
Prince Dipendra was very popular with the Nepalese people. He was regarded as outgoing and friendly and was reportedly concerned about poverty, corruption and the threat from Maoist guerrillas in Nepal and wished his parents would do more to tackle Nepal's problems. Over the years he had many girlfriends and he boasted he could sleep with any woman he wanted to in Nepal. His true live was reportedly a Japanese girl that he was not allowed to marry.
Prince was an avid hunter and gun collector and an honorary colonel in the Royal Nepal Army. He was a good shot and loved weapons. He carried a loaded a Glock pistol with him at all times and liked to check out weapons with troops outside Nepal and sometimes tested weapons for the Royal Nepal Army. He also liked writing poetry and once wrote of his desire to "spread the light of knowledge" and said a "flame" burned inside his chest. He also appeared at seminars and conferences and gave speeches about AIDS awareness.
On one hand Prince Dipendra was an adventurer. He enjoyed skydiving and flew around the world. But on the other hand he lived a restricted, cloistered existence in the royal palace. He had to abide by strict rules about what he could eat and who could associate with, and reportedly couldn't even leave the palace without his parent's permission. He was reportedly frustrated by his predicament but few believed he as capable of killing his family.
Conspiracy Theories and the Killing of the King
The official statements about King Birendra death caused public confusion and fanned rumors about a palace conspiracy. Many Nepalese did not believe the official version of the story. Some believed the whole thing was a plot orchestrated by Prince Gyanendra, who was absent from the royal palace when the massacre occurred, and his son Paras, who was at the at the scene but survived. Some people chanted in the streets, "Dipendra is innocent" and "punish the real murderers."
Doubts remained after a government probe concluded that Prince Dipendra was solely responsible for the massacre and that he was high on alcohol, hashish and an unidentified black substance at the time. One man in Kathmandu told AP, “It takes more than madness or a woman’s love to shoot down your own family. The findings of the probe committee may be accepted for now but deep inside the hearts of every Nepalese there will be doubts.”
There were may questions about Prince Dipendra’s death. He was right-handed but a neurosurgeon that treated him said that based on the position of the entry wound on the left side of his head he “could not have shot himself with his right hand.” Those close to him said he could shoot just as well with his left as he could with his right.
Some thought the Maoist rebels or maybe the Chinese or the CIA were behind the massacre, or maybe even Prime Minister Koirala. Some said the deaths were part of coup attempt gone wrong. The largest Nepali-language newspaper ran an article, claiming that the killing was a joint United States-India-King-Gyanendra conspiracy.
Some of the rumors were pretty wild. One man told the magazine Talk that 600 people had been killed in the royal palace and secretly cremated. Another told the same magazine that the killing was carried out by a clone of the prince and the real prince had been kidnapped.
Nepal to rebuild royal massacre house
The house where the massacre took place — part of a sprawling palace complex in central Kathmandu — was torn down after the tragedy. In 2009, the Nepalese government announced plan to rebuild it. Reuters reported: “Prime Minister Madhav Kumar Nepal has ordered that the house be rebuilt inside the complex, which was turned into a museum after former king Gyanendra stepped down last year. "The prime minister has ordered that it be rebuilt in the original style so that visitors can see what it looked like," said spokesman Bishnu Rijal, suggesting it could be used to display information about the massacre. [Source: Reuters, July 23, 2009]
“An official investigation concluded that Dipendra gunned down his relatives in a drink- and drugs-fuelled rage after being prevented from marrying the woman he loved. But many people in Nepal do not believe the official line, and the country's Maoist former prime minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal had promised a fresh investigation before he resigned from the post in May. Prime Minister Nepal said late on Wednesday a new investigation should be held, but that his priority was the writing of the country's new constitution.”
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Nepal Tourism Board (ntb.gov.np), Nepal Government National Portal (nepal.gov.np), The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.
Last updated February 2022