When he tried to convince people in the crowds to spare the Muslims, the mobs began threatening him. One Buddhist man demanded bitterly: ‘‘Why are you trying to protect them? Are you a Muslim lover?’’
An officer advised Win Htein to leave.
Shortly after, a monk and four policemen offered to escort the trapped Muslims on foot to several police vehicles on top of the embankment.
‘‘We'll protect you,’’ one officer said. ‘‘But the students must stop chanting. They must put down their weapons’’ — their sticks and stones.
As the teachers debated what to do, they realized their time had run out. The crowds were flinging long bamboo staves wrapped with burning fabric over the fence like giant matchsticks. The compound was on fire, belching orange flame and black smoke into the air.
The group emerged slowly with their hands behind their heads, like prisoners of war.
Police led them down a narrow dirt track — a long line of desperate people, crouching in terror. Almost immediately, they were stoned by livid residents of a tiny Buddhist neighborhood who attempted to block their way.
What followed was a gantlet from hell, an obstacle course that came with its own set of macabre rules: Do not run, or they will chase you. Do not fall, or you may never get back up. Do not stop, or you may die.
Police fired several rounds into the air, but the crowds attacked anyway. A teacher was knocked to the ground, and panicked students stepped over his body, sprawled face down in the dirt.
Koko saw a friend hit across the forehead with a hoe. When he tried to stand again, five men with knives dragged him off.
The mobs then attacked Koko with machetes from behind, slicing six palm-sized gashes into the flesh of his back. Blood stained his yellow shirt. He fell and blacked out.
One officer, struck in the face by a rock, apparently by accident, shot a Buddhist man in the leg. The crack of gunfire woke Koko, who realized he had been left for dead and leapt to his feet to catch up with the group.
As they moved inside the Buddhist neighborhood on the path to the trucks, police ordered the Muslims to squat down.
Crowds taunted and slapped them. Several women forced them to bow their heads and press their hands together in prayer like Buddhists. And according to testimony gathered by Physicians for Human Rights, they also shoved pork, which is prohibited in Islam, into the mouths of the Muslims.
One man swung a motorcycle exhaust pipe into a student’s head. Another hit him with a motorcycle chain. A third stabbed him in the chest.
‘‘Don’t kill them here,’’ yelled one monk. ‘‘Their ghosts will haunt this place. Kill them up on the road.’’
The monks said the police should round up the women and children and let them go first. When Thida refused to let go of her husband, a Buddhist man shoved a palm in his face and forced them apart. Another man she recognized tried to grab her 3-year-old.
‘‘He’s still breast-feeding. Leave him alone!’’ she shouted, pulling away.
The man then grabbed her 9-year-old, but pushed him back in disgust when he wailed.
Amid the confusion, one Buddhist woman hurriedly waved two of Thida’s teenage daughters into her home to protect them, in an act of kindness. Both would be reunited with Thida several days later, unharmed.
As Thida and about 10 women and children climbed the hill, several riot police pushed back the stick-wielding crowds around them with open palms. A video reviewed by the AP records a man trying to dissuade the mobs, saying: ‘‘Don’t do this. There are kids there as well.’’
But the violence continued.
Buddhists still clearing the Wat Hlan Taw forced a thin 17-year-old student named Ayut Kahn out into an open patch of low grass. In a scene captured on video by at least two different unidentified people, the boy — a Meikhtila native with a stutter who loved soccer — was struck 24 times by nine people with long sticks and bloody machetes. Five blows were from a monk.
‘‘Look! Look!’’ one Buddhist bystander shouted from the top of the embankment as the student was murdered. ‘‘The police are heading down there, but they aren’t doing anything.’’
The last time Thida saw her husband, he was struggling to climb the hilltop road where she waited anxiously beside police. Two teachers were by his side, their arms locked in his. Mobs swarmed the steep embankment between them.
Shafee’s face was pale. He had never looked this way — so exhausted, so drained, so helpless.
Across the hillside, Thida could hear the cries of hate.
‘‘Kill the Kalar! Don’t leave any of them behind!’’Continued...