Ex-cop kills dozens in rampage at childcare center in Thailand

Subel Rai Bhandari, Nontarat Phaicharoen, and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Ex-cop kills dozens in rampage at childcare center in Thailand The body of gunman Panya Khamrab is seen inside a body bag at the Na Klang Police Station following a mass shooting in Uthai Sawan, Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand, Oct. 6, 2022.
Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Updated at 2:57 p.m. ET on 2022-10-06

A former cop on Thursday shot and stabbed to death dozens of people, mostly preschoolers, in attacks on a daycare center and his own family that left Thailand grasping for answers into what motivated one of the worst mass killings in its history.

The attacker, who had been fired from the police department after he was caught with drugs, forced his way around lunchtime into the center in Nong Bua Lam Phu, a province in the country’s northeast, before killing the children and others, a senior police officer said.

The man, identified as Panya Khamrab, 34, then returned home and killed his wife and their 3-year-old son before turning the gun on himself, Pol. Col. Jakrapad Wijitwaitaya, chief of the Na Klang station, told reporters. The small boy was enrolled at the daycare center.

“He [Panya] had personal problems, had just been fired, and was addicted to drugs. So that might be the cause of the incident,” Jakrapad said.

As condolences poured in from around the world, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha said the nation was reeling from the shooting, which he called “a shocking event.”

The country will fly its flag at half-mast on Friday to mourn the tragedy, he announced in a Facebook post.

“My deepest condolences to the bereaved and injured families. Let all parties involved help and heal those affected urgently,” the PM said.

“I have ordered the police chief to travel to the scene immediately to take necessary actions and all involved parties to provide immediate relief to all affected people.”

His office said that on Friday Prayuth would visit the scene of the massacre.

A police officer stands guard outside a day care center that was the scene of a mass shooting in Uthai Sawan, Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand, Oct. 6, 2022. [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

The killings occurred at a nursery operated by a local government organization in Tambon (village cluster) Uthai Sawan in Na Klang district, some 500 kilometers (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok.

The total death toll on Thursday night had risen to 38, including the killer, his wife and their child, a hospital source told BenarNews on condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak to reporters.

The victims included 24 children, most of them aged from two to five years old, according to officials.

At least ten others were injured, some of whom are in serious condition, authorities said, but they would not say if the wounded included children.

Two teachers and one police officer were among the fatalities, according to the police.

The nursery’s acting chief described the horrific scene when the attacker barged into the building armed with a gun and knife.

“There were some staff eating lunch outside the nursery and the attacker parked his car and shot four of them dead,” Nanthicha Punchum told Agence France-Presse. “The shooter smashed down the door with his leg and then came inside and started slashing the children’s heads with a knife.”

Another eyewitness said the assailant was known in the area as a drug addict. Paweena Purichan said she encountered Panya driving erratically as he fled the scene, AFP reported.

“The attacker rammed a motorbike into two people who were injured. I sped off to get away from him,” she told the news service. “There was blood everywhere.”

Local television channels Thairath and Amarin broadcast a video clip of the husband of a pregnant teacher who was slain in the attack.

“My wife is due next month. I never got to see my wife and child,” the man said, weeping.

‘The culprit went insane’

As of late Thursday, the killer’s exact motive was still not known.

Police said Panya Khamrab was a former lance corporal who was discharged from the force earlier this year for drug possession.

A senior police officer said Panya had been to court to face drug-related charges earlier in the day, with the ruling slated for Friday.

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

“The culprit went insane, mainly used a knife, and killed many children. After leaving the daycare center, he used a gun and knife to attack people on his way. Then he reached home where he was besieged and ended his life.”

Gen. Torsak Sukwimol, Thailand’s deputy police chief, said the gunman’s mother told him that her son had seemed stressed after the court hearing on Thursday.

The attacker also took some drugs and started acting paranoid, Torsak said.

In an interview with local television, a woman identified as the killer’s mother said her son had become hooked on drugs.

“I don’t know the motive. But he was addicted to Yaba. I warned him often to stop it. He became an addict after moving from Bangkok to here,” the woman told Thairath TV.

Yaba, or “crazy medicine,” is an illicit drug tablet that contains methamphetamine and caffeine. They are widely used in Southeast Asia.

The assailant appeared to become agitated when he could not find his son at the nursery, local media quoted witnesses, including one of the teachers at the scene, as saying.

Police said most of the children were stabbed as they were sleeping.

Damrongsak said the killer’s gun was legal, purchased, privately owned, and not police property.

Videos and photos posted on social media showed bloodied clothes and sheets covering what appeared to be the bodies of children at the center. Some also showed distraught parents weeping in a shelter outside the center.

According to local media reports, people lined up outside the local hospital in Nong Bua Lamphu to donate blood for the injured being treated there.

Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul arrived at the provincial hospital late in the evening and met with some of the injured people being treated there.

He also thanked the health workers and others for supporting the local community.

A woman reacts as people gather outside a daycare center where a massacre occurred in Uthai Sawan, Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand, Oct. 6, 2022. [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

In Bangkok, the Thai government announced that it would provide financial support to the victims’ families for funeral expenses and medical treatment.

Several world leaders, meanwhile, sent condolences including heads of governments of Western countries that had experienced mass shootings at school and university campuses.  

“I am shocked to hear of the horrific events in Thailand this morning. My thoughts are with all those affected and the first responders. The U.K. stands with the Thai people at this terrible,” British Prime Minister Liz Truss said on Twitter.

In March 1996, a gunman killed 16 students and a teacher at a primary school in Dunblane, Scotland, before he turned the gun on himself.

“It’s impossible to comprehend the heartbreak of this horrific news from Thailand. All Australians send their love and condolences,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.

In Bangkok, the U.S. Embassy issued a statement saying it was “saddened by the tragic event” in Nong Bua Lam Phu.

“We stand with the people of Thailand and offer our deepest condolences to the victims and their families,” said the embassy representing the United States where hundreds of people have died in gun-related attacks and mass killings at schools in recent decades.

Among many other deadly incidents at schools, attacks ranging from a massacre at Columbine High in Colorado in 1999, to mass killings at Newtown Elementary in Connecticut in 2012 and Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas in 2022 have become seared into the American conscience.

People gather outside of a daycare center, which was the scene of a mass killing in Uthai Sawan, a town in Nong Bua Lamphu province, Thailand, Oct. 6, 2022. [Sakdipat Boonsom/Handout via Reuters]

Thursday’s attack in Thailand occurred less than a month after an army officer shot two of his colleagues dead at a Bangkok base.

In Thailand, illegal weapons are common, but mass shootings are rare.

The country has strict gun laws, with illegal firearm possession carrying a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but enforcement has been an issue, according to experts.

According to a 2020 study by the Geneva-based organization Small Arms Survey, Thailand has the highest number of firearms in civilian possession among ASEAN countries.

The research found more than 10 million firearms in civilian hands as of 2017 – about 15 percent of the population. The survey group said six million in circulation were registered arms, while the rest were unregistered.

Thailand’s number is far fewer than the United States’ rate of 120 guns per 100 people in 2017.

In 2020, a Thai soldier angry over a property deal gone wrong went on a shooting spree, killing at least 29 people and injuring dozens of others at four locations in Nakhon Ratchasima city.

After an hours-long standoff overnight, he was gunned down the following morning. Authorities said he went on the rampage after suffering “a psychotic break.”


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