At least 23 children were among the 36 people killed in a massacre in a daycare center central northeast Thailand on Thursday.
Authorities immediately launched a manhunt for the alleged attacker, later identified by Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) as Panya Kamrab, a 34-year-old former police officer involved in an ongoing court case for allegedly selling drugs.
Kamrab had appeared in court for drug trafficking in the hours before the attack.
Investigators later confirmed that he killed his wife and stepson before committing suicide. It is unclear whether the attacker and his family are included in the current death toll.
The suspect had appeared in court in Nong Bua Lamphu province a few hours before “opening fire while the children were sleeping”, according to Major General Jirapob Puridet of the CIB.
Her 2-year-old stepson was registered at the center he attacked on Thursday, but was not present during the attack, according to a local police chief.
“(The shooter) went to get his two-year-old son, but the boy wasn’t there…so he started shooting and stabbing people at the nursery,” the police spokesperson told CNN. , Major General Paisan Luesomboon.
The massacre took place at the child development center in Nong Bua Lamphu Province Uthaisawan Na Klang District, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
The province, located about 540 kilometers (about 335 miles) northeast of Bangkok, is a largely peaceful and calm area, and not known for violence.
“The Prime Minister expressed his condolences for the shooting incident,” the statement read.
Puridet told CNN the former officer was removed from duty and “charged with selling narcotics” last year.
Gun ownership in Thailand is relatively high compared to other Southeast Asian countries.
There were more than 10.3 million civilian-owned firearms in Thailand, or about 15 firearms for every 100 people, according to 2017 data from the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey (SAS). About 6.2 million of these weapons are legally registered, according to SAS.
Thailand is the Southeast Asian country with the second highest number of firearm homicides after the Philippines, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) 2019 Global Burden of Burden Database. Disease from the University of Washington.
Mass shootings in the country are rare, however, but one incident in 2020 saw a soldier kill 29 people in a shooting which started at a military site, then sent shoppers looking for shelter after the shooter entered a mall.
The incident drew international condemnation.
In a statement, UNICEF said it was “shocked” by the tragedy and sent its condolences to the families affected. He condemned the attack saying: “No child should be the target or witness of violence anywhere, at any time”, adding: “Early childhood development centres, schools and all learning spaces should be safe havens for young children to learn, play and grow during their most critical years.
British Prime Minister Liz Truss said in a tweet that she was “shocked to hear of the horrific events” and said her “thoughts are with everyone affected and first responders”.
“The UK stands with the people of Thailand at this terrible time,” she said.