Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Buddhist Temple Massacre

Leads vs. Needs

August is usually the hottest month in Arizona. The Wat Promkunaram Buddhist temple stood at Cotton Lane and Maryland Avenue just outside Goodyear, twenty miles west of Phoenix near, Luke Air Force Base.  At that time of year there, temperatures often soared past 100 degrees.  The heat meant that a lot more work was required to protect the gardens, a primary source for the temple's food supply.

Buddhist Temple
Front entrance area of Buddhist Temple

Even so, it seemed strange to a temple worker delivering food early on Saturday morning, August 10, 1991, that the irrigation water for the vegetable gardens was still running. He looked around for someone, possibly a worshiper at the outdoor shrine to the Buddha, but found no one, and the place seemed terribly quiet.  There weren't many houses out that way, and there were no immediate neighbors. Mostly, people kept to themselves. 

A plane flew overhead, probably an F-16 fighter, screaming through the air for a few moments. But soon, the place grew silent once again.

Buddhist Temple, overhead
Overhead view of the Buddhist Temple

The worker removed the bags from his car and momentarily shrugged off his worries. Such quiet during the early morning hours wasn't so unusual. It was a temple after all, and the six monks who lived in their separate rooms spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation.  Among them was a monk-in-training, along with a nun and her 17-year-old relative.  All of them lived frugally, according to Michael Kellerher in Flash Point, living off donations from a small religious community near Phoenix. The monks were from Thailand, practicing Theravada, which required a life of spiritual devotion and monastic discipline.  They avoided aggression in any form, eschewing harm to others.  All they sought was harmony within their beliefs and promoting good by helping others.

Buddhist Temple, main hall
Main hall of the Buddhist Temple

But the temple worker's serenity was brief. He could not shake the feeling that something was amiss.  Letting himself into the unlocked L-shaped building, he prepared to do his chores, which included helping with breakfast.  But first he wanted to find someone.  He went through the carpeted temple area, where a life-size golden Buddha sat with other ornate religious items on an altar topped with a blue cloth.  Around the statue were several plants, which appeared to be as they had been the day before, and nearby was the money tree, with its dollar bills attached to the branches.  All seemed well there.  

Buddha statue
A statue likeness of Buddha

He continued through the room, remaining respectfully quiet, and listened for the sounds of others at their chores.  He heard nothing.

Surely they were up and about by now.  It was already 8:00.

Opening the door to the living quarters, he had no doubt that something was terribly wrong.

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