When the shooting started they dropped everything – a sleeping mat and what little extra clothing they had carried on their backs – and ran until evening. That night, lacking food and blankets, they huddled together for warmth.
The next day they walked until finding a small group of nomads with three tents who agreed to sell them provisions. From there they met up with other members of the group with whom they walked for five more days before arriving at the Tibetan refugee center in Katmandu, Nepal.
"We were best friends," says Dolma Palkyi, who was separated from her teenage friend at the time of the shooting and only heard of her death days later. "Still, I cannot believe it," she says, wiping away the tears, "I've lost everything."
About half the group was captured by Chinese police. The Chinese Foreign Ministry announced the death of a second victim, a 23-year-old male, days later in a hospital, stating he died from "oxygen shortage." China's official news agency, Xinhua, reported on Oct. 12 that Chinese police opened fire in self-defense after the Tibetans attacked them.
Human rights groups say the Tibetans were unarmed, and that the male victim died from gunshot wounds.
"This has been going on for a long time, says Tenzin Norgay of the Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy in India. "But today China cannot escape it. The bubble that they created has burst."
Rights groups don't know how many refugees die along the way each year, but they say a significant number fall into crevasses, die of hunger, or are shot by Chinese police.
But never before has such an event been documented so well. A Romanian cameraman and other Western tourists who were in the region to climb Cho Oyu, about 12 miles west of Mount Everest, say they saw the Chinese patrolmen shoot the Tibetan refugees. (www.protv.ro/filme/exclusive-footage-of-chinese-soldiers-shooting-at-tibetan-pilgrims.html)