UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand (AP) — Relatives wept and some broke down as they mourned the small coffins Friday carrying children killed by a fired police bid that stormed a daycare center in rural Thailand during the siesta.
Thailand’s deadliest massacre left virtually no one untouched in the small community nestled among rice paddies in one of the country’s poorest regions. Grief also gripped the rest of the country, where flags were lowered to half mast and schoolchildren said prayers to honor the dead.
At least 24 of the 36 people killed in Thursday’s horrific gun and knife attack were children, mostly preschoolers.
“I cried until I had no more tears coming from my eyes. They go through my heart,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was due to give birth this month and who worked at the Early Childhood Development Center in Uthai Sawan.
“My wife and child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and shall live. If I can’t continue, my wife and child will worry about me and they won’t be reborn in the next life,” he said.
A stream of people, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, other government officials and relatives themselves, laid flowers at the daycare. In the afternoon, bouquets of white roses and carnations lined the outside wall, along with five tiny juice boxes, bags of corn chips and a stuffed animal.
Later, relatives received the bodies at the local Buddhist temple. When the small white coffins were opened, some cried out, while others fainted. The paramedics revived them with scented salts. For a time, the grounds outside the temple were crowded with grief-stricken people.
“It was too much. I cannot accept this,” said Oy Yodkhao, 51, sitting on a bamboo mat in the searing heat as relatives gave her water and gently wiped her forehead.
Her 4-year-old grandson Tawatchai Sriphu was killed and she said she was worried about the child’s siblings. The rice farming family is close, with three generations living under one roof.
Som-Mai Pitfai collapsed when she saw the body of her 3-year-old niece.
“When I looked I saw she had been slashed in the face with a knife,” the 58-year-old said, fighting back tears.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were due to visit hospitals later in the day, where seven of the 10 injured are. A vigil was planned in a central park in Bangkok, the national capital.
Police identified the attacker as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant who was fired earlier this year on a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He was due to appear in court on Friday. An employee told a Thai TV station that Panya’s son had attended daycare but hadn’t been in about a month.
Witnesses said the attacker shot a man and a child in front of the center before walking towards it. The teachers locked the glass front door, but the shooter fired and fought his way through. The children, mostly preschoolers, had taken an afternoon nap and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets. In some footage, you could see gashes in the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads.
Panya committed suicide after killing his wife and child at home.
In an interview with Amarin TV, Satita Boonsom, who worked at the child care centre, said staff locked the door to the building after seeing the attacker shoot a child and his father in front. But the assailant broke the glass and attacked the children and workers with his knife and gun.
Satita said she and three other teachers climbed the center’s fence to escape, call the police and ask for help. By the time she returned, the children were dead. She said a child who was covered in a blanket survived the attack, apparently because the attacker assumed he was dead.
She said the center usually had about 70 to 80 children, but there were fewer at the time of the attack because the semester was over for older children and rain prevented a school bus from running.
“They wouldn’t have survived,” she said.
Satita added that the perpetrator’s son had not been to daycare recently because he was sick.
One of the youngest survivors is a 3-year-old boy who was riding a tricycle near his mother and grandmother when the assailant began slashing them with the knife. The mother died from her injuries and the boy and grandmother were being treated in hospitals, according to local media.
Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 guns per 100 people compared to just 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far below the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australian nonprofit GunPolicy.org.
Support and condolences poured in from around the world. “All Australians send their love and condolences,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the violence “senseless and heartbreaking”.
Pope Francis offered prayers for all those affected by such “indescribable violence”.
“I am deeply saddened by the heinous shooting at a daycare center in Thailand,” tweeted UN Secretary General António Guterres.
Thailand worst previous mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a shopping mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for about 16 hours before shooting. finally be killed by them.
Nearly 60 other people were injured in this attack. Its death toll surpassed that of the worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. It would have been carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for the repression of their network.
Last month, a clerk shot colleagues at the Thai Army War College in Bangkok, killing two people and injuring another before being arrested.
Associated Press writers Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul, Elaine Kurtenbach and Grant Peck in Bangkok and Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report.
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