Buddhist abbot helps grieving Thai community cope, heal after 2022 daycare massacre

Wilawan Watcharasakwej
Uthai Sawan, Thailand
Buddhist abbot helps grieving Thai community cope, heal after 2022 daycare massacre Phra Adisai, abbot of the Wat Rat Samakkhi Temple in Nong Bua Lam Phu province, ties a thread to the wrist of Champ, held by his mother, Chadaporn Kamson, July 4, 2023.
Wilawan Watcharasakwej/BenarNews]

The daycare center in Uthai Sawan is abandoned now but people still leave snacks, milk, and dolls out front to remember the small children who were massacred inside during a rampage by an ex-policeman a year ago.   

Twenty-four children and a dozen more people were killed in the Oct. 6, 2022 attack in this village cluster (tambon) in northern Thailand – the country’s deadliest-ever attack in which children were the main targets. 

Since then, relatives have also been offering alms to monks every Buddhist lunar day – about four times a month. It’s their way to worship the souls of their dead loved ones. 

One local man was left paralyzed after he was shot in the neck during the rampage, but says he has come to forgive the killer, thanks to the constant support of a Buddhist monk.

“Their anger, trauma, agony have been cured somewhat,” Phra Adisai, the abbot of Wat Rat Samakkhi Temple in Nong Bua Lam Phu province, told a BenarNews correspondent who visited the area in July.

“I told the survivors that all of the children have gone to heaven – they are little angels,” said the monk who is revered as the godfather of more than a dozen slain children. “They did not do a bad deed – they are angels in paradise.”   

A year ago on Friday, Panya Khamrab, a former police officer, used a cane knife and a handgun to slaughter two dozen children between the ages of 2 and 5 during the daylight attack at the daycare center. Many of the victims were sleeping.

Panya also killed 10 others including a pregnant teacher before returning home to kill his wife, their 3-year-old son and then himself, officials said. At the time of the attack, Panya’s former boss said he was addicted to drugs.

In addition, a senior police official said Panya had been to court to face drug-related charges earlier that day.

“He might have been stressed and under the influence of narcotics and consequently committed this tragic act,” Gen. Damrongsak Kittiprapas, who served as national police chief, told reporters last year.

The first anniversary of the massacre falls only a few days after a 14-year-old allegedly used a modified handgun to shoot up an upscale shopping mall in Bangkok, killing two people and injuring five others.

Changed lives

Uthai Sawan, in Nong Bua Lam Phu province, is located about 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok. The area’s residents were peaceful, relying on agriculture as the main occupation, before the massacre changed their lives. 

Phra Adisai, the abbot, said he had spiritually adopted 15 of the children before the massacre because their parents believed it would help them have a positive effect on society.

Since the killings, some of the parents visit regularly to receive blessings.  

“I cannot get over it. I’m missing them all the time. Though I say go to heaven, my dear children, I still cannot deal with what happened,” Kampoon Srilumtai, the grandmother of three of the children, told BenarNews.

Her 2-year-old granddaughter who survived the attack has become timid, paranoid and could cry at any time, Kampoon said, adding the toddler was afraid to leave her side.

06 TH-anniversary2.jpg
Tawee Lasopha, whose daughter Maliwan Lasopha was killed in the massacre, feeds breakfast to his grandson, Thanathorn Sopha, Oct. 5, 2023. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

Duangporn Kamson brought her daughter, Chadaporn, and newborn grandson, Champ, to be blessed by Phra Adisai.

“He gives holy water which revitalizes our lives. He cures our pains,” Duangporn told BenarNews.

Speaking of her grandson killed in the massacre, “We badly miss our lost child,” she said.

“I was frightened and prayed that it was not my grandson when I heard about the shooting,” she said. “But I was shocked and traumatized when I learned he was among the dead.”    

‘No more anger’

Over the last year, Phra Adisai has visited families of the deceased and those who were injured to comfort them and help them move on with their lives.

Kamthorn Thongpod, the man who was left paralyzed by a bullet, said the abbot taught him to forgive.

“At that time, I blew my top. Why do this to us? We hadn’t even met him before,” Kamthorn told BenarNews from his bed.

“Now, I forgive,” Kamthorn said over the sound of air flowing through a respirator to help him breathe. “The abbot told me to relax, wishing for mercy – that would make me feel better.”  

Kamthorn, who worked as a technician for the administration of Tambon Uthai Sawan, was having lunch with a colleague outside of the daycare center when the attack occurred. Upon release from an intensive care unit three months later, he learned that a 5-year-old nephew he helped raise was among those killed.

The Associated Press spoke with Tawee Lasopha, described as 59 and unemployed who lives with his wife Mongkol Uppachai, 58. They are trying to make ends meet to help support three grandchildren, including two children of their daughter, Maliwan Lasopha, one of two teachers killed in the massacre.

“I lost hope. I don’t know how much longer I can go on like this,” Tawee said. 

“These days, when I go out to see neighbors, they tell me to forget. How could I forget? I can’t forget it for the rest of my life.” he told AP. “This child … I can’t forget.” 

06 TH-anniversary3.jpg
Danaichok Boonsom shows the daycare center which closed following the massacre there last October, July 4, 2023. [Wilawan Watcharasakwej/BenarNews]

Danaichok Boonsom, the chief of local administration in Uthai Sawan, said the government had approved funding for a new daycare center, but construction has not started.

When BenarNews visited the village cluster in July, the metal-and-glass front door had not yet been fixed after it was broken during the attack. 

“I had known all of those children since they were born. Today, the temple is quiet unlike before when they were joyfully chasing around,” Phra Adisai said. “Some of them held my robes when I went out for morning alms.

“I was saddened that day. I lost my 15 adopted children.”


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.