Thailand recoiled in horror on Thursday after at least 36 people were killed, including at least 24 children, in a daycare massacre in northeast Thailand, considered the deadliest such incident in the country.
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. According to the Royal Thai Police, he was suspended from police duty earlier this year for possession of drugs.
Among the dozens of victims are Panya’s wife and son-in-law, whom investigators say he killed before taking his own life.
Her 2-year-old stepson was enrolled in the nursery he attacked on Thursday, but was not present during the attack, according to a local police chief.
“(Panya) 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.
Panya then “managed to enter a room where 24 children were sleeping together”, killing all but one.
“He also used a knife to stab children and center staff,” Paisan said.
One of the center’s teachers described a gruesome scene to local media, saying the attacker entered the center around noon, when two other staff members were having lunch.
“I suddenly heard the sound that sounded like firecrackers. So I looked back [and] the two sticks just collapsed on the floor,” the teacher said.
“Then he pulled out another gun from his waist…I didn’t expect him to kill the children as well,” they said.
The teacher also said the attacker also carried a second gun, as well as a knife, which he used to fatally stab another teacher, who was eight months pregnant.
An eyewitness told Reuters she believed the attacker was coming for her child. When he arrived at the centre, he “didn’t say anything” and “gunned at the door while the children were sleeping”, she said.
Most of the deaths are from “stab wounds,” Paisan told CNN.
A teacher also told Reuters that the attacker mainly used a knife.
” Everything happened really fast. He was slashing the knife, he wasn’t using the gun, he kept slashing in there. It’s all about the knife,” she said.
Police General Damrongsak Kittiprapas said the attacker “mainly used a knife” to kill the children.
“Then he went out and started killing everyone he met on the way with a gun or a knife until he got home,” Damrongsak said. “We surrounded the house and then found out he had committed suicide in his home.”
The massacre took place at the children’s development center in Uthaisawan Na Klang district, Nong Bua Lamphu province, according to a statement from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who called the incident “shocking”. and expressed condolences to the families of the victims. .
The province, located about 540 kilometers (about 335 miles) northeast of Bangkok, is a largely peaceful and calm area, and not known for violence.
Prayut will travel to the province on Friday to meet with the families of the victims, according to a statement from his office.
Royal Thai Police said Panya was due to receive a verdict in his ongoing case for alleged methamphetamine possession on October 7.
In an earlier undated search of his residence, police found a Yaba tablet in his house, they also said. Yaba is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine, which is a commonly crushed and smoked pill, known locally as “mad medicine”.
‘Category 1’ drug possession charges led to his suspension from police duty in January.
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.
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.