Uthai Sawan, Thailand
At the Uthai Sawan Child Development Center, school bags sat uncollected on colorful shelves, and photos of children smiled from the wall, pinned near cardboard cutouts of ladybugs.
Outside, parents wept on blue plastic chairs in a makeshift shed, nursing their pain and clinging to each other and to their children’s blankets and bottles, any reminders of life, as officials finalized plans for a visit from the top leaders of the country.
More than 20 young children ages 2 to 5 lost their lives in this classroom during siesta Thursday when a former police officer armed with a knife and gun forced his way in and cut them up while they slept.
In a strange mix of sorrow and grandeur, a red carpet had been rolled out at the center’s main gate for the delivery of a floral wreath, a gift from Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, the King’s youngest daughter.
Later on Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida will fly north from Bangkok’s Grand Palace to meet the families of the dead and the six injured, who are still receiving medical care at Nong Bua Lamphu Hospital.
His visit will follow that of the country’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who arrived early Friday to visit the hospital and meet families at the relief center set up by the government.
Thailand is used to the underlying tensions that arise in a nation ruled by military coup leaders, but violence of the kind perpetrated on Thursday is rare. the latest mass death in Southeast Asian country It was two years ago, when a former soldier went on a rampage at a military site before attacking shoppers at a shopping mall in Nakhon Ratchasima province, known as Korat, further south.
In that case, the shooter was said to have erupted after an argument with another soldier over a commission fee for land sales. In this case, the motive is unclear, but after terrorizing the nursery, Panya Kamrab, a 34-year-old former police officer, drove to his house and shot his wife and son before taking his own life.
The total death toll was 36, including Panya’s wife and two-year-old stepson, who normally attended that nursery but was not there when the officer went looking for him. The boy’s death brings the number of children killed to 24.
Drugs may have played a role: Authorities said Panya had appeared in court that morning on drug possession charges, though blood tests are being carried out to determine if drugs were in his system at the time of the attack.
“Regarding the motivation, the police have not ruled out any possibility, it could be due to personal stress or hallucination from drugs, we have ordered a blood test,” the Royal Thai Police said in a statement.
The results may provide some answers as to why it happened, but they will not end the inconsolable pain being felt in this small, close-knit community, nor will they resolve the question of how to prevent it from happening again.
Nopparat Phewdam sat outside the nursery on Friday with other parents, though she lost her brother in the attack. Unlike others there, Nopparat knew the killer. She said he was a frequent customer at her convenience store and would often come in with her stepson. “He seemed polite and spoke quietly,” she said.
Details of the massacre have been slow to emerge, but the accounts given so far describe a man armed to kill, who did not hesitate to attack innocent children and even shot dead a pregnant staff member who was a month from giving to light
A staff member said that Panya entered the center around noon while two other staff members were having lunch. They heard sounds “like firecrackers” and saw two colleagues collapse on the floor. “Then she pulled another gun from her waistband…I didn’t expect her to kill the kids too,” they said.
Most of the deaths were the result of “puncture wounds,” local police chief Maj. Gen. Paisan Luesomboon told CNN. First responders told CNN of the grim scene that awaited them: Most of the injuries were to the head, they said.
In any community, the loss of 36 people in an atrocity would be deeply felt, but the death of so many young children in a small rural area has shaken the village of some 6,300 people.
Distraught families sat side by side outside the center, united in grief, as they awaited details of government support on Friday.
Among them was the heavily pregnant mother of four-year-old Thawatchai Siphu, also known as Dan, who was too distraught to speak. Dan’s grandmother, Oy Yodkhao, told CNN the family was excited to welcome a new baby brother.
Now her joy is drowned in loss and disbelief that someone could murder innocent children.
“I couldn’t imagine that there were these kinds of people,” Acho said. “I couldn’t imagine that he would be so cruel to children.”
Also sitting in numb mourning were Pimpa Thana and Chalermsilp Kraosai, the parents of the talkative twins, Weerapat and Worapon, who had not yet celebrated their fourth birthdays; with two children, his family was complete.
Pimpa said her mother had called to tell her there had been a shooting at the daycare. “At that time I did not know that my children were dead, my husband hid the news from me. I know after I came home.
Rows of small, child-sized coffins in white and pale pink were placed on the floor as police recovered bodies from the classroom on Thursday.
On Friday, across the country, people wore black and flags flew at half-staff from government buildings, reflecting on the lessons to be learned from a massacre within the walls of a classroom.
Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University says he sees parallels between the mass shooting in 2020 and what happened in the nursery on Thursday. Both perpetrators had served as officers in a country with a strong police and military presence.
“These are young men. They seem to have alienated themselves in some way. And they had access to weapons,” he said.
It is not known what mental problems Panya had been suffering from, although it was believed he had a long-term drug problem, a growing problem in the north of the country, near the border and the Golden Triangle, a global hub for illicit drugs.
Last year, officials seized a record amount of methamphetamine (nearly 172 tons) in East and Southeast Asia in 2021, including the first shipment of more than a billion methamphetamine tablets.
“There is a lot of manufacturing in the Mekong sub-region, and there is also a lot of traffic through Thailand,” Raymond said. “So all of that means there are more people who are developing problems with meth, and I think that should be seen as a pretty big cause of what’s happened here.”
The mix of drug and mental health issues among the forces is a problem Thailand needs to address, he added.
“Thailand may need to start thinking more about how it handles mental health among professionals, particularly those who have access to weapons, or who have become used to having violence as some sort of tool for their occupation.”