KATMANDU, Nepal, June 5 -
It was a pleasant family gathering in Nepal's royal palace, a soiree in a garden-side billiard room and adjoining parlor that King Birendra liked to host every Friday night.
The king's son, Crown Prince Dipendra, was tending bar. He mixed one of his cousins a drink, and the assembled relatives chatted as they waited for dinner. At about 9 p.m., Dipendra slipped out of the gathering.
A short while later, he reappeared, wearing an army uniform, his cap pulled low over his face and an Uzi submachine gun and an M-16 assault rifle in his hands. Dipendra strode into an adjacent room where his father was sitting and shot him with one of the powerful automatic weapons. Through the open door, a witness "could see the king's face with utter astonishment on it."
This account of Friday night's horrifying palace massacre was provided today by an immediate relative of that eyewitness, a member of the royal family. The relative, who spoke for the witness on condition of anonymity, gave the first detailed description of how Dipendra, 29, apparently shot Birendra, 55, and eight other relatives dead, injured three others and then shot himself in the head. He died Monday and was cremated that night.
Government officials initially blamed Dipendra for the killings, but then -- as he lay in a coma last weekend after being named king upon his father's death -- palace officials claimed they were accidental.
While the account provided by the witness's relative could not be independently verified, because no one else connected to the palace has come forward to describe what happened, it not only squares with the first official version of events, but also contains accurate descriptions of which family members were killed or wounded and of the surroundings in which they were shot.
After killing his father, the crown prince sprayed machine-gun and rifle fire through the sitting rooms for 15 minutes. Everyone was too stunned to react, the relative said, and remained where they stood or sat as bullets flew around them and victims fell to the floor. At one point, the relative said, Dipendra lost control of one gun and it began firing upward, showering bits of ceiling onto the carpet.
"He said nothing at all throughout the whole episode, and there was no expression whatever on his face," the relative said. "He just fired indiscriminately."
At one point Dipendra's mother, Queen Aishwarya, and his younger brother, Prince Nirajan, followed him into the garden. "That's when they got shot," the relative said.
When Dipendra moved back inside, his uncle, Prince Dhirendra, approached him and pleaded, " 'Put the gun down; you've done enough damage.' That's when he got shot." Two women, an aunt and a cousin, rushed over to help the wounded Dhirendra. "That's when they got shot."
As he lay bleeding, the relative said, Dhirendra urged one of the women to reach into his pocket for a mobile phone to call for outside help, but she was unable to do so because she had been shot in the arm and shoulder. Dhirendra died of his wounds today; the women are recovering in the city's military hospital.
Finally, Dipendra went out to the garden again, and more shots were heard. "That must have been the time he was shooting himself," the relative said. Once the prince stopped firing and the rooms had fallen silent, the relative said, "people got together and there was somebody saying, 'This one's dead, that one's alive.' "
Later that night, according to the relative, one survivor taken to the military hospital lay in shock, saying, "It was unbelievable. The crown prince shot everyone."
The witness's account, given by the relative in a joint interview with The Washington Post and the Times of London, shed no light on what Dipendra was thinking or feeling as he prepared to kill. Officials and other sources have said he was distraught because his mother refused to let him marry girlfriend Devyani Rana, the daughter of a prominent Nepali politician and the granddaughter of an Indian maharajah.
But the relative of the eyewitness said that, according to the witness, there was no discussion of the prince's wedding plans or romantic life at the Friday night gathering, no arguments overheard between Dipendra and his parents that evening, and no sign before the shootings that anything was wrong.
"Why he did it, we may never know, but this is actually what happened," the relative said. "It was a routine Friday night, and it all went wrong."
The government's backpedaling over whether Dipendra killed his family, and why, has spread public confusion, anger and rumors of a palace conspiracy and coverup. Violent anti-government riots erupted here Monday with protesters demanding to know the truth, and a military curfew was declared that evening and again today.
Two other relatives of Birendra said in a separate interview today that they had "no reason to believe" Dipendra had not been the killer. One, a cousin, said he "wished" Dipendra were not guilty but that from conversations with various sources, "I must conclude [he] was the culprit."
Nepal's new king, Birendra's 54-year-old brother, Gyanendra, has named a three-man commission to investigate the massacre. But today one proposed member, the leader of Nepal's parliamentary opposition, pulled out of the commission, throwing its viability into serious doubt.
At least three survivors of the massacre are in a military hospital here. They could provide definitive information about the palace events, but they have made no statements, have remained inaccessible to the press and reportedly have not been interviewed by any government officials.
"The facts are quite clear. All that has to be done is to ask the survivors," said the royal witness's relative, who expressed concern that the truth has not been presented by the government. "The family knows the truth, so if there is some kind of whitewash, I am sure various family members will speak up."
The lack of official information about the slayings has given rise to rumors that they were not a result of personal rage but of political plotting against Birendra, who was a beloved national figure. Some people said they suspect a plot involving the new king, Gyanendra, and his son, Paras Shah, who has a reputation for violent behavior.
According to the relative of the eyewitness, however, Shah, 28, played an important and even heroic role in the evening's events, moving quickly to hide some teenagers behind a sofa as the shootings started and arranging to have army trucks take the wounded survivors to a military hospital because no ambulance was available.
"He acted very maturely, very calmly," the relative said. "He must have realized what was happening and he got all the younger girls . . . behind a settee and kept them there together."
Unlike Shah, Dipendra was popular among Nepalis, many of whom do not believe he could have murdered his parents in cold blood, even in a fit of rage. After his death Monday, some demonstrators tried to prevent his body from being whisked to the royal cremation site in an army truck, demanding that it be borne in a formal procession, as his relatives' bodies were on Saturday.
Outside the military hospital where Dipendra died, a crowd toppled brick walls and chopped down trees in anger over his hasty funeral. "Dipendra was our king, and we are 200 percent sure he did not do this," said Ram Shrestha, 22.