As Thailand recoiled Monday from a mass shooting that left 30 dead over the weekend, the king announced he would pay for victims’ funeral rites, as condolences poured in from abroad while survivors and witnesses said they remained shaken by the attack by an army sergeant.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha announced the king’s offer to pay for the funerals, while speaking to a national television audience as Thailand mourned in the wake of its deadliest attack by a lone gunman.
“King Maha Vajiralongkorn and the Queen feel remorse because of the shootings and extend moral support to the families of the dead and will sponsor their funeral rites,” said Prayuth, who had earlier described the attack as unprecedented.
The gunman, identified as Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, 32, allegedly went on the shooting spree in Nakhon Ratchasima, a city of 2.6 million about 260 km (160 miles) northeast of Bangkok, after seizing weapons and ammunition and killing his commander – the first victim – during an argument over a property deal on Saturday afternoon, officials said.
Jakrapanth killed 14 people in all at a residence, an army barracks and near a temple in Nakhon Ratchasim, and later killed 15 others at a seven-story shopping center in the city before Thai commandoes gunned him down early on Sunday, officials said. Authorities said he went on the rampage after suffering “a psychotic break.”
Around 8 a.m. Sunday, Thai Special Forces enlisted the help of a drone operator for a local TV news channel, according to the Associated Press. The journalist maneuvered his thermal-sensing drone through shattered windows and into a supermarket’s cold storage room, broadcasting images of Jakrapanth and several apparent hostages back to police, allowing sharpshooters to take out the gunman.
Security analyst Nanthadej Meksawat, a retired lieutenant general who had been responsible for intelligence oversight in Thailand’s insurgency-stricken Deep South, expressed concern that more attacks were possible.
“This is the worst gun violence. But Thailand is like America, there are a lot of guns and freedom,” he told BenarNews.
“It doesn’t matter that the gunman was military, it depends on attitude – the gunman shot indiscriminately. When things like this happen, it can be hard to stop copycats,” he said.
Prayuth, who also serves as defense minister, earlier on Monday joined National Police Chief Gen. Chakthip Chaichinda and other officials in holding a bathing ceremony for two anti-terrorist policemen who were shot dead on Sunday morning as they advanced toward the gunman, according to police.
Under Buddhist tradition, relatives and friends pour holy water over one hand of the deceased during the bathing ceremony before the body is then placed in a coffin and surrounded with wreaths, candles and sticks of incense.
The dead – a captain and a senior sergeant – were behind a shield and wearing body armor that did not withstand Jakrapanth’s gunfire. The soldier had stolen an M60 machine gun and an HK-33 assault rifle from a military barracks as he set out on his killing spree, officials said.
“I ordered the agencies involved to have after-action review within two weeks,” Chakthip told reporters. “We lack equipment,” he said, referring to proper body armor and shields.
Anthony Davis, a security analyst who writes for the Jane’s defense publications, said it was premature to judge the Thai military’s response to the siege, AP reported.
“In the end you have a professional military man with a large supply of ammunition holed up in a very large building with not much clear idea on the part of the security forces how many people are in his reach,” Davis said. “It took a long time, but in a big building they couldn’t risk storming in and killing a lot of people.”
Among those killed was police senior Sgt. Maj. Chatchawan Tanthong, 50, who was shot as he tried to intercept the gunman who was driving a Humvee toward the shopping center, according to police. His widow held a bathing ceremony Monday afternoon.
“I can’t take it. When I saw his photo, I melted down,” Nattha Rattanarak, 33, told reporters at the Po Temple in Nakhon Ratchasima. “I’m proud of him. He performed his police duty until the last minute. I hope this attack is the last one.”
Chatchawan’s unit praised him on Facebook.
“He didn’t have time to get out of the car before the windshield was shattered by bullets,” the post said.
Angkhana Neelapaijit, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, called on the army to investigate.
“It is like a terrorist, the lone wolf acted alone, killing randomly and expecting mass casualties,” Angkhana told BenarNews. “I hope the agencies involved – the Army, in particular – look into the case with transparency and investigate the motive to prevent future violence.”
Songyost Suwanachim, a regular visitor to the shopping center, told Reuters news service that he was shaken by the mass killings but lucky because he got a late start on Saturday.
“I feel depressed and scared. I can still hear the sound of gunshots in my head and I can’t sleep at night,” said Songyost, 40.
He said he saw smoke coming from the shopping center from his vantage point at the Big C supermarket across the street.
“If I left half an hour or an hour earlier I would probably be stuck inside the mall because I always like to come here,” he said.
Nuttawut Kanchanamethi lost his 13-year-old son and only child to the gunman’s bullet. The boy, Rachanon Kanchanamethi, was shot and killed while riding his motorbike, AP reported.
“I don’t want to lose him like this,” Nuttawut said during the first day of his son’s Buddhist funeral. “This is too sudden. We had plans for him, growing up. That’s all. We didn’t impose any expectations on him.”
A woman who goes by the name Gem for privacy reasons, said she hid under a table at a shop inside of the mall as the gunman came by.
“He played instrumental music on his cell, sounding very relaxed. It was abnormal. I just hid under table, scared, as he shot indiscriminately,” she told TV Channel 3.
The United States and China were among the nations sending condolences to the people of Thailand.
“The Embassy of the United States of America in Bangkok stands with the people of Thailand, saddened by tragic events in Nakhon Ratchasima. We offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their friends and families,” the embassy said on its Facebook page.
China posted this message: “The Embassy of the People’s Republic of China offers deepest condolences and has sincere sorrow toward to families of the dead, the injured and other families in the Korat shooting. In this time of grief, Chinese people stand by Thais.”