(01/18/06 -- BANGKOK, THAILAND) - A Lao-American couple living in North Carolina and claiming to be members of a Lao royal family were shot to death Wednesday in northeastern Thailand, police said.
Anouwong Sethathirath IV and Oulayvanh Sethathirath, 49 and 38 years old respectively, were killed at a Buddhist monastery in Nong Khai, near the border with Laos, said police Lt. Jeerawat Thammasorn, who was unwilling to give any further details about the victims.
No arrests or suspects have been announced in the case.
A Web site operated by the couple, www.sethathirath.com, identifies Anouwong as a prince and Oulayvanh as a princess, and says that Sethathirath is the royal line of Laos' Sisattanakhanahut kingdom, also known as Lan Xang.
The couple resided in Fairview, N.C., a suburb of Asheville, according to newspaper accounts. Both were U.S. citizens.
Lt. Jeerawat said they were shot a a pavilion at the monastery at about 10 a.m. The Thai television station ITV reported that witnesses said that gunmen wearing coats and black sunglasses walked into the pavilion and killed them. Nong Khai is 320 miles north of Bangkok.
The couple was not directly related to Savang Vatthana, the last king of Laos, who was forced to abdicate his throne after a communist takeover of his country in 1975. The Sethathirath family last ruled a part of Laos in the 19th century.
According to a profile of the couple published earlier this month in the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper, they were to attend a cultural conference in Thailand this month for the Lan Xang people, and had frequently visited Thailand, especially the northeast, whose residents are ethnically related to the Lao.
The newspaper said that Anouwong, the descendant of the Sethathirath line and who also has the Western name Phillip McRowan, married Oulayvanh, also known as Ashley, in 1987. It said that Anouwong worked as a pathologist's assistant in a local hospital, while Oulayvanh was studying for a degree in international studies at the University of North Carolina in Asheville.
Although some refugees from Laos have been involved in violent activities against the country's communist government, the couple was not known to be involved with them. Most exiled members of the late king Savang Vatthana live in France.