Thailand recoiled in horror on Thursday after at least 36 people were killed, at least 24 of them children, in a massacre in a daycare center in northeast Thailand that is believed to be the deadliest such incident in the country.
Authorities immediately launched a manhunt for the suspected 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 service earlier this year on drug possession charges.
Among the dozens of victims are Panya’s wife and stepson, whom investigators say he killed before taking his own life.
His 2-year-old stepson was enrolled in the daycare he attacked Thursday but was not present while the attack took place, according to a local police chief.
“(Panya) went to look for her two-year-old son, but the boy was not there … so he started shooting and stabbing people in the nursery,” police spokesman Maj. Gen. Paisan Luesomboon told CNN.
Panya then “managed to get into a room where 24 children were sleeping together”, killing all but one.
“He also used a knife to stab the children and staff at the center,” Paisan said.
One of the center’s teachers described a horrific scene to local media, explaining that the attacker entered the center around noon, while two other staff members were having lunch.
“Suddenly I heard that the sound sounded like firecrackers. So I looked back [and] the two canes just collapsed on the floor,” the teacher said.
“Then he pulled another gun from his waistband… I didn’t expect him to kill the children as well,” they said.
The teacher also said the attacker was also carrying a second weapon, as well as a knife, which he used to fatally stab another teacher, who was eight months pregnant.
A witness told Reuters he believed the attacker was coming to pick up his son. When he arrived at the center “he didn’t say anything” and “shot the door while the children were sleeping,” he said.
Most of the deaths were the result of “puncture wounds,” Paisan told CNN.
A teacher also told Reuters the attacker had mainly used a knife.
“Everything fell apart very quickly. She was cutting with the knife, she didn’t use the gun, she kept cutting there. It’s all because of a 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 anyone he found on the way with a gun or a knife until he got home,” Damrongsak said. “We surrounded the house and then found out that he killed himself in his house.”
The massacre took place at the Child Development Center in the Uthaisawan Na Klang district of Nong Bua Lamphu province, according to a statement from Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who called the incident “shocking” and expressed his condolences to the families of the victims. .
The province, located approximately 540 kilometers (about 335 miles) northeast of Bangkok, is a largely peaceful and quiet area, and is 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 would receive a verdict in his ongoing case for alleged possession of methamphetamine on October 7.
In an earlier, undated search of his residence, police found a Yaba tablet at his home, they also said. Yaba is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine, which is a tablet usually crushed and smoked, known locally as “mad medicine”.
The “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 guns per 100 people, according to 2017 data from the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey (SAS). Approximately 6.2 million of those weapons are legally registered, according to SAS.
Thailand ranks as 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) Global Burden of Disease 2019 database. from the University of Washington.
In a statement, UNICEF said it was “shocked” by the tragedy and sent its condolences to the affected families.
He condemned the attack, saying: “No child should be the target or witness of violence anywhere at any time”, adding: “ECD centres, schools and all learning spaces should be safe havens. safe for young children to learn, play and grow. during his most critical years.
UK Prime Minister Liz Truss said in a tweet that she was “shocked to learn of the horrific events” and said her “thoughts are with all those affected and first responders.”
“The UK stands with the Thai people at this terrible time,” he said.