Thailand mourns victims of massacre at daycare center

Subel Rai Bhandari, Nontarat Phaicharoen, and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok and Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand
Thailand mourns victims of massacre at daycare center A Thai mother cradles a blanket and bottle that belonged to her child who was killed in a massacre carried out by a former policeman at a daycare center in Uthai Sawan, a district in Thailand’s Nong Bua Lam Phu province, during a mourning ceremony at the site of the attack, Oct. 7, 2022.

The people of Thailand plunged into mourning on Friday after a former policeman massacred dozens of people – many of them pre-schoolers – during a knife and gun rampage at a daycare center in the northeast.

Relatives of the dead clutched toys, blankets, pieces of clothing and other items that belonged to their loved ones, pouring out their grief as they gathered for a remembrance ceremony at the site of Thursday’s attack in Nong Bua Lam Phu province.

The Thai flag was lowered to half-staff across the nation, as both the prime minister and deputy PM visited the site of the killings, and the king and the queen met with injured victims at two local hospitals.

Police reported that an autopsy had shown no traces of drugs in the bloodstream of the killer, identified as Panya Khamrab, 34. He took his own life after killing his wife and their child at their home following his attack at the nursery in Tambon Uthai Sawan, a village cluster in Na Klan district, some 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok. 

Among those grieving was Panida Prawanna, 19, who lost her first child in the attack. Her “cheerful and cuddly son” would have turned 3 in November, she said.

“[W]hen I heard that the shooting was at the [daycare] center, I rushed from home. When I arrived, a teacher told me my son was gone; he was no longer alive,” Panida told BenarNews on Friday.

“My son was dead. But they didn’t allow me to go inside to see him.”

On Friday, she was waiting for her son’s body at a temporary relief center where traumatized relatives of victims had gathered as bodies were being brought back from hospitals.

Panida said she cried all night.

“I can’t sleep, I can’t eat. I don’t want to eat anything,” she said.

“My son had just started speaking. My heart is broken. It has broken to pieces.”

Some of the relatives at the relief center wept as other people comforted them. Several Buddhist monks offered prayers.

At least 24 children, aged between two and five years old, were killed in the attack. Many of them were slashed to death as they slept at the nursery on Thursday afternoon, police said.

On Friday, the authorities revised down the death toll to 37, from 38. That updated number included the assailant, who had been dismissed from the police force earlier this year.

One of the victims who was killed was eight months’ pregnant. Her unborn baby also died but was not counted in the official tally.

Social media was flooded with messages of grief and anger, as more than 4 million tweets were posted with the Thai hashtag #กราดยิงหนองบัวลําภู (#MassShootingNongBuaLamphu). 

“Humanity, not tiny angels, died in today’s massacre,” wrote one Twitter user identified as @psmyheart.

A bereaved relative weeps after arriving at the scene of the daycare massacre in Uthai Sawan, Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand, Oct. 7, 2022. [ThaiNewsPix/BenarNews]

An initial autopsy report found “no evidence that that the killer had drugs within the 72 hours before the incident,” Gen. Damrongsak Kittipraphat, the national police chief, told reporters on Friday.

“The reasons are probably unemployment, no money, and family issues,” he said, adding that a second autopsy would be carried out later.

On the morning of the massacre, Panya had argued with his wife, Damrongsak said, adding that investigators believed that the couple had “longstanding problems” and the wife wanted to leave Panya.

Panya was discharged as a lance corporal earlier this year for drug possession and had been to court to face drug-related charges on Thursday before the killing spree.

He had joined the force in 2012 and had no mental health problems but a history of drug use, Damrongsak said.

At least 10 others were injured, three of whom were released from hospital on Friday, authorities said.

Six, four of them children, were still in critical but stable condition, Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul told reporters after visiting them in the hospital.

After the autopsies were completed on Friday afternoon, the bodies of victims were handed over to the relatives. Many fainted when they looked at the tiny bodies of their children to identify them, as the authorities had requested. Some of them had to be sent to the hospital.

“There is a profound sense of shock and outrage across Thailand that any person could commit such heinous attacks and killings of small children,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch, told BenarNews.

Relatives and family members put white roses on the steps of the childcare center to remember their loved ones who were killed in a rampage in Nong Bua Lam Phu province, Thailand, Oct. 7, 2022. [ThaiNewsPix/BenarNews]

White roses and red carpet

Also on Friday, many of the relatives placed white roses on the steps of the nursery building. Some got down on their knees and prayed for their loved ones’ departed souls.

A red carpet had been placed outside the daycare center in preparation for the royals’ anticipated arrival, but it was soon removed after a swift backlash online deeming it insensitive.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and several other ministers visited the site on Friday afternoon but did not enter the cordoned-off nursery. They laid bouquets of flowers outside the main gate. 

Later in the evening, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida visited two hospitals to meet with the injured behind closed doors. The bereaved relatives arrived at one of the hospitals to meet with the royals.

“The government and I are very sorry, and so are the people of Thailand,” Prayuth told the victims’ families as he consoled them.


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