A two-year-old Canadian boy was killed during a hostage-taking at an international school in a Cambodian tourist centre on Thursday, authorities say.
One of the hostage-takers later told police a gang member shot the small boy in the head because he was crying too much, according to an Associated Press report.
- PHOTO GALLERY: Cambodian hostage-taking
A family friend identified the boy as Maxim Michalik, born in Victoria. His parents held dual Slovak and Canadian citizenship. The father worked at a resort north of Victoria two years ago.
"I can't begin to imagine what they must be going through at this point in time. Our hearts go out to them right now," said Markus Griesser.
"We were shocked by the news this morning, and our sympathies are extended to the family on behalf of all Canadians," Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew told reporters in Ottawa, calling the boy's death an "assassination."
Police ended the hostage-taking about six hours after four masked gunmen stormed the Siem Reap International School and seized up to 70 children aged between two and four and their teachers at around 9 a.m. local time.
The gunmen demanded money, six AK-47 rifles, six shotguns, grenade launchers, hand grenades and a vehicle.
Cambodian Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said that after the gunmen killed the Canadian boy, they threatened to kill the other children one by one until their demands were met.
Around 1:30 p.m local time, police apparently agreed to some of the gunmen's demands, handing over $30,000 US and a 12-seater minivan.
When the gunmen took no action, a counter-terrorism unit approached the building, and the police began shouting that they had the school surrounded. At that point, the hostage-takers said they would leave.
But when the gunmen tried to escape with some children and teachers in the van, police opened fire and rushed the vehicle, smashing its windows.
There were conflicting reports about the fate of the four hostage-takers. Some reports said two or three had been killed, while others said they were all arrested alive.
The Associated Press said a group of angry parents managed to wrest some of the hostage-takers from police and began to beat them before officers regained control of the situation.
Police said the men were known criminals, aged 22 to 25, from the southeastern province of Kandal.
The school is located in the popular tourist spot of Siem Reap, near the Angkor temples. Many of the parents using its services are foreigners working in local hotels.
Many of the hostages, aged between two and six, were the sons and daughters of expatriate hotel workers from Canada, the U.S., Britain, Australia, Singapore, Korea, Japan and Taiwan.