Thailand mourns children, others killed by ex-policeman

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand (AP) — Relatives bereaved by a staggering loss laid flowers Friday at a daycare center in rural northeast Thailand where a fired police officer massacred dozens of peopleincluding children as young as 2 years old who were napping.

The entire country was shaken following Thursday’s gruesome attack in a small town nestled among rice paddies in one of the country’s poorest regions. At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault, Thailand’s deadliest shooting, were children.

“I cried until I had no more tears coming from my eyes. They go through my heart,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, who lost his pregnant wife who was due to give birth this month. pictured during the attack at the Uthai Sawan Early Childhood Development Centre.

“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.

On Friday morning, royal and government officials in white uniforms laid wreaths on the ceremonial tables outside the centre’s main gate, as a faded Thai flag fluttered overhead. They were followed by weeping family members, who put their hands together in prayer before laying white flowers on the wooden floor.

Later, villagers lined the town’s roads as a stream of ambulances brought the bodies back to the daycare center so waiting parents could pick them up.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the nursery, and Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were due later in the day to go to the hospital, where seven of the 10 injured people are. A vigil was planned in a park in central Bangkok.

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.

When asked if he thought the center was secure enough, Seksan noted that the attacker was a police officer. “He came to do what he had in mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did their best.”

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 2- and 3-year-olds, were taking 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.

The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu province, one of the poorest regions in the country.

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 attacker smashed the glass door and attacked the children and workers with his knife and gun.

Satita said she and three other teachers climbed the nursery fence to escape and called the police 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 around 70 to 80 children, but there were fewer at the time of the attack because the semester was over for the older children and also because a school bus didn’t arrive. could not circulate because of the rain.

“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 the worst mass shooting ever 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 at colleagues at the Thai Army War College in Bangkok, killing two people and injuring another before being arrested.

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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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See more AP Asia-Pacific coverage on https://apnews.com/hub/asia-pacific

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