Polenghi, 48, an Italian freelance photographer, was struck by gunfire on the morning of May 19 while reporting on military operations to dislodge anti-government demonstrators from an elaborate protest site, a CPJ investigation found. He was one of two foreign journalists killed during violent political unrest that gripped the capital for several weeks. Hiro Muramoto, a Japanese cameraman for Reuters, was killed in crossfire in April.
Bradley Cox, a Bangkok-based documentary filmmaker, said that earlier on the morning of May 19, troops fired sporadically from behind a barricade into areas 200 meters away that were controlled by red-shirted protesters for the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship, or UDD. Cox, interviewed for a CPJ special report, said both he and Polenghi had taken footage of a protester shot in the leg around 10:45 a.m.
About 15 minutes later, Cox said, sensing a lull in the shooting, he moved away from a barricade controlled by the UDD and into a nearly empty road to investigate a commotion among protesters approximately 30 to 40 meters away. Cox said Polenghi followed a few steps behind. While running down the road, Cox felt a sudden, sharp pain in the side of his leg. It turned out that a bullet had grazed his knee, causing minor injury. When he turned to look back in the direction of the troops, he saw Polenghi sprawled on the ground about two or three meters behind him. Polenghi was wearing a blue helmet with the word "Press" written across the front and back, and a green armband indicating that he was a working journalist.
"My feeling at the time was that we were shot at the exact same time, perhaps even with the same bullet," said Cox, adding that he didn't hear the gunshot or shots that hit him or Polenghi. "I don't know who shot me or Fabio, but if the military was trying to shoot red shirts, there was no one around us. ... Soldiers were firing at anything or anybody."
Video footage Cox subsequently took of journalists and protesters who carried Polenghi's body out of the road and onto a motorcycle bound for a nearby local hospital appeared to show a bullet had entered Polenghi's body under his left armpit and exited through his side. He was declared dead on arrival at a local hospital, according to news reports. Authorities did not report any bullet being recovered.
Polenghi's family expressed concerns about the government's opaque investigation into the death. His sister, Elisabetta Polenghi, noted that many of his belongings, including his camera and telephone, were missing. She and a group of Polenghi's colleagues pieced together video clips--some received from journalists who were in Polenghi's vicinity, others downloaded from unknown sources on the Internet--to develop a timeline of movements before and after the shooting. There was no known footage of the shooting itself. One video clip showed that an unidentified man wearing a silver helmet was the first to reach Polenghi after he was shot. The brief footage showed him feeling around Polenghi's chest and briefly jostling with his camera, while another unidentified man wearing a yellow helmet knelt and took a photograph.
Government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn did not respond to questions from CPJ on the Polenghi shooting, including the assertion that soldiers had been firing indiscriminately.