'He asked if I was not afraid to die': Retired cop recounts shooting and killing notorious gang member
SINGAPORE: Retired police officer Anthony Low, 78, knows he is fortunate to be alive.
On Jun 6, 1974, the then-sergeant in the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) came face-to-face with death, or more specifically, with his own revolver pointed at his head.
Holding the revolver was secret society member Chua Hung Pheng, also known as “Gia Kiang” or “the centipede”. Gia Kiang claimed to have murdered before and was once arrested by Mr Low himself.
Just moments earlier, Mr Low was on the hunt for Gia Kiang at a vacant Housing Board block on Alexandra Road. Then Gia Kiang pounced on him, repeatedly hit his head and snatched his revolver, leaving the police officer with nothing to defend himself with.
“Of course (I was afraid for my life); I was thinking many things,” Mr Low told reporters on Friday (Jul 30) as part of stories to commemorate 200 years of policing in Singapore. “This was the most dangerous incident I ever faced.”
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The day started on a more mellow note, with a routine call to a case of extortion at a finance company in the Alexandra area. Mr Low did not know then that it involved Gia Kiang.
Earlier in the morning, a man had walked into the company's office and demanded S$10,000 from the manager, revealing that he had a loaded revolver.
The manager said she did not have that kind of money with her, and had to go to the bank to withdraw the cash. The man agreed to collect the money later and left. The manager then went to the bank and called the police.
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When Mr Low and two other plainclothes officers arrived at the finance company, they were informed that the manager had left for the bank. At the bank, the manager told the police officers to wait for the suspect back at the office.
Mr Low told his colleagues to take up ambush positions around the office, while he sat in front of a typewriter and pretended to be a clerk.
Sure enough past noon, a man wearing a singlet, shorts and slippers entered the office. After spotting Mr Low, he quickly turned around and left.
“I straight away recognised him as Gia Kiang whom I had arrested several years ago and was imprisoned for six years,” Mr Low said. “I stood up and gave chase.”
Mr Low noticed that Gia Kiang had run in the direction of a nearby vacant HDB block before he disappeared. He figured that Gia Kiang would try to hide in the upper floors of the block.
Mr Low decided to search every floor. He could not tell his colleagues about his whereabouts as detectives did not carry walkie-talkies.
As Mr Low scanned the corridors and peered into the empty units, he felt confident. “Since Gia Kiang already knew who I was, he would be afraid, and likely discard his weapon and surrender,” he thought to himself.
But this assessment was quite far from what happened next.
BRUSH WITH DEATH
When Mr Low was on the 13th floor, Gia Kiang, now barefooted and stealthy, charged at him from the back. Gia Kiang used his own revolver and struck Mr Low in the head several times. He wrapped his arms around the officer’s neck and questioned him.
“He then angrily asked me why I came back to look for him,” Mr Low recalled. “He also asked if I was not afraid to die.”
Mr Low tried to calm Gia Kiang down by talking to him, but this only made him more brazen. Gia Kiang snatched Mr Low’s revolver from his waist holster and pointed it at the officer’s head.
“Today is my day or yours. Either you or me,” Mr Low remembers Gia Kiang telling him, ordering him to ensure safe passage to the ground floor.
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It dawned upon Mr Low that he was in “grave danger”, as he started to think about escaping. The officer suggested that they use the lift, thinking that he would bolt once the doors opened. Gia Kiang, perhaps worried about a counter-attack, demanded they use the stairs instead.
As the pair made their way down, Mr Low decided that he would have to ditch his escape plan and try to regain control.
“I knew that he would never give me a chance (to escape),” Mr Low insisted. “He meant business.”
WILL TO SURVIVE
Every time they turned a corner down to the next flight of stairs, Mr Low thought of snatching back his revolver. He tried a few times, but Gia Kiang swatted him away.
Mr Low admitted he was afraid that Gia Kiang would shoot him if he kept trying, but knew he did not have much of a choice if he wanted to live.
“With each failure to retrieve my revolver, I was resolute to survive,” he said. “I kept telling myself that I must not give up. I needed to seize the next possible opportunity.”
When the pair was two floors from the ground, Mr Low suddenly turned around again. He grabbed his revolver tightly and yanked so hard that he thought he could have broken some of Gia Kiang’s fingers.
In the melee, the pair tumbled down the stairs nearly to the ground floor. Mr Low had his gun back. “I felt deep down that this was my final opportunity to keep myself alive,” he added.
Gia Kiang did not appear dazed from the sudden ambush, as he jumped backwards and pulled out his own revolver. For Mr Low, years of training and instinct kicked in.
Mr Low fired three shots, one of which hit Gia Kiang square in the chest, killing him. The officer moved in for an arrest, but the gang member was dead.
Gia Kiang’s revolver was later confirmed to be have been used in several murder cases. Mr Low, for his heroism in taking down an armed gunman, was awarded the Police Gallantry Medal in 1975.
LUCKY TO BE ALIVE
When asked for his thoughts on public comments that police officers in Singapore rarely, if ever, used their firearms now, Mr Low said this goes on a “case-by-case” basis.
“Is your life in danger at that time? If your life is in danger, I will definitely open fire,” he said. “But if I still got people covering me, or if I’m alone and I have a chance to avoid it, you avoid it.”
Mr Low said he was relieved to have made it through the “extremely dangerous ordeal” almost half a century ago.
“As a young CID officer, I knew that I had a duty to perform, that is to be courageous, to do my utmost best to fight enemies so as to keep or nation safe and secure,” he said.
When asked how he dealt with any trauma in the days that followed, Mr Low, voice cracking, replied that he felt “very lucky”. He highlighted that his maternal grandmother had prayed for his safety every day.
“Today, I thank God for preserving my life,” he added.