Law-enforcement authorities in Armenia hunted on Monday for a Russian soldier suspected of shooting and killing six people, including one child, and wounding another near his military base in Gyumri.
The victims, all of them members of one family, were gunned down in their home in circumstances that were not immediately clear. One of them was only 2 years old.
Another child, a six-month-old boy, appeared to have been the only survivor of the massacre. He was taken to a local hospital with a serious stab wound and underwent urgent surgery there.
Police officers who found the Gyumri residents dead said they believe the unprecedented shooting spree was the work of the soldier identified as Valery Permyakov. The suspect remained on the run as of Monday evening.
The police tightened security in and around public schools in Gyumri.
Another Armenian law-enforcement agency, the Investigative Committee, said Permyakov deserted his army unit before killing the 53-year-old Seryozha Avetisian, his wife, daughter, son, daughter-in-law and grandson early in the morning. It said that investigators found a Kalashnikov assault rifle in the Avetisians’ house. “Measures are being taken to track down Permyakov,” it added.
“The bodies of the murdered individuals were in their beds,” said Raffi Aslanian, the chief prosecutor of Armenia’s Shirak province, of which Gyumri is the capital.
They were first discovered by the sister of Avetisian’s wife Hasmik. None of the murdered family’s neighbors interviewed by RFE/RL’s Armenian service claimed to have heard any gunshots.
Meanwhile, President Serzh Sarkisian had an emergency conference call with top law-enforcement officials, telling them to solve the crime “in the shortest possible time.” The presidential press office said Sarkisian is personally overseeing their efforts to catch “the criminal who perpetrated that barbarity.”
Those efforts were spearheaded by an ad hoc team of high-ranking policemen formed by the chief of the Armenian police, Vladimir Gasparian. The law-enforcement authorities released Permyakov’s photograph, asking anyone spotting the fugitive soldier to immediately call the police.
“Shirak has been completely shut down,” the regional police chief, Vahan Nadarian, told reporters in Gyumri. “Everything is being done to find [Permyakov.]”
The manhunt quickly extended to Yerevan. Groups of heavily armed police randomly checked and searched cars there later in the day.
Also looking for Permyakov in Gyumri were armed patrols sent by the Russian military base headquartered in Armenia’s second largest city. The commander of the base, Colonel Ruzinsky, visited the crime scene in the morning.
The Russian Embassy in Armenia expressed shock at “the appalling tragedy in Gyumri” and offered its condolences to the victims’ relatives. “Those who committed that awful crime must receive the most severe punishment,” the embassy said in a special statement.
The statement added that Armenian and Russian “competent bodies” are now working together to ensure an “objective and comprehensive” investigation into the shootings in accordance with bilateral treaties regulating the Russian troop presence in Armenia.
Sarkisian’s office said in that regard that the Russian base command is “fully cooperating” with the Armenian investigators and providing “meaningful assistance to the investigation into the case.”
Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu condemned the shootings in a phone call with his Armenian counterpart Seyran Ohanian reported later on Monday. According to the Armenian Defense Ministry, Shoygu pledged to “do everything” help solve the crime. He also said that Moscow will send a “special commission” to Armenia which will assist in the ongoing inquiry.