Uthai Sawan, Thailand
Streaks of dried blood still stained the floor of a northern classroom Thailand Friday, one day after the worst massacre in the country unfolded in perhaps one of the most unlikely places.
At the Uthai Sawan Child Development Center, schoolbags sat on colorful shelves, and pictures of smiling children on the wall, fixed with pegs near cardboard cutouts of ladybugs.
Outside, sobbing parents sat on blue plastic chairs in a makeshift shed, nursing their grief and clinging to each other and their children’s blankets and bottles, all reminders of life, so officials were finalizing plans for a visit by the country’s top leaders.
More than 20 young children between the ages of 2 and 5 lost their lives in this classroom during nap time on Thursday when a former policeman armed with a knife and a handgun forced his way into inside and lacerated them in their sleep.
‘I didn’t expect him to kill children too’: Kindergarten teacher describes horror of deadly massacre
In a strange mixture of grief and greatness, at the center’s front door, a red carpet had been rolled out for the presentation of a wreath, a gift from the Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana Rajakanya, the most young daughter of the king.
Later on Friday, the king and queen visited injured survivors and their families at Nong Bua Lam Phu hospital in a rare appearance, a source with direct knowledge of the king’s schedule told CNN. .
Their visit follows that of the country’s Prime Minister, Prayut Chan-o-cha, who earlier met families at the government-established rescue centre, visited hospitalized victims and laid flowers outside the day care centre.
Thailand is used to the underlying tensions that arise in a nation ruled by military coup leaders, but violence of the type perpetrated on Thursday is rare. The latest mass death in Southeast Asian country It was two years ago when a former soldier went on a rampage at a military site before targeting shoppers at a mall in Nakhon Ratchasima province, known as Korat, further south.
In this case, the shooter reportedly broke out after an argument with another soldier over a land sale commission. In this case, the motive is unclear but after terrorizing the nursery, Panya Kamrab, a 34-year-old former policeman, drove home and shot dead his wife and child, before committing suicide.
The total death toll was 36, including Panya’s wife and two-year-old son-in-law, who normally attended the daycare center but weren’t there when the officer came to pick him up. The toddler’s death brings the number of children killed to 24.
Drugs may have played a part – officials said Panya appeared in court that morning for possession of drugs – although blood tests are being taken to determine if any drugs were in his system at the time. of the attack.
“Regarding the motivation, the police did not rule out any possibility, it could be personal stress, or a drug-induced hallucination, we ordered a blood test,” the Royal Thai Police said in a statement.
The results may provide answers as to why it happened – but they won’t end the inconsolable grief felt in this small, tight-knit community, or resolve the question of how to prevent it from happening again.
Nopparat Phewdam sat outside the nursery on Friday with other parents, despite losing her brother in the attack. Unlike others there, Nopparat knew the killer. She said he was a frequent customer of her convenience store and often came with his son-in-law. “He looked polite and spoke softly,” she said.
Details of the massacre have been slow to emerge, but accounts reported so far describe a man armed to kill, who did not hesitate to attack innocent children, and even shot dead a pregnant staff member who was at a month of giving birth.
A staff member said Panya entered the center around noon, while two other staff members were having lunch. They heard noises “like firecrackers” and saw two colleagues collapse on the ground. “Then he pulled out another gun from his waist…I didn’t expect him to kill the children as well,” they said.
Most of the deaths are due to “stab wounds,” local police chief Major General Paisan Luesomboon told CNN. First responders told CNN of the grim scene that awaited them — most of the injuries were to the head, they said.
In any community, the loss of 36 people in a single atrocity would be keenly felt, but the death of so many young children in a small rural area shook the village of around 6,300 people.
Distraught families sat side by side outside the centre, united in grief, as they awaited details of government support on Friday.
Among them was the heavily pregnant mother of four-year-old Thawatchai Siphu, also known as Dan, who was too upset to speak. Dan’s grandmother, Oy Yodkhao, told CNN the family is thrilled to welcome a new baby brother.
Now their joy is drowned in loss and disbelief that someone could murder innocent children.
“I couldn’t imagine there would be those kinds of people,” Oy said. “I couldn’t imagine he was so cruel to children.”
Pimpa Thana and Chalermsilp Kraosai, the parents of talkative twins, Weerapat and Worapon, who had not yet celebrated their fourth birthday – with two children, their family was complete.
Pimpa said her mother called her to tell her there had been a shooting at daycare. “At that time, I didn’t know that my children were dead, my husband hid the news from me. I know after I returned home.
Rows of small, toddler-sized coffins in white and pale pink lay on the ground as police retrieved the bodies from the classroom on Thursday.
Across the country on Friday, people wore black and flags waved over half-mast staff in government buildings, as thoughts turned to the lessons to be learned from a massacre within the walls of a classroom.
Gregory Raymond of the Australian National University says he sees parallels between the mass shooting in 2020 and what happened Thursday at daycare. Both authors had served as officers in a country with a heavy police and military presence.
“They are young men. They seem to have alienated themselves somehow. And they had access to weapons,” he said.
It’s unclear what mental issues Panya suffered from, although it was thought he had a long-term drug problem – a growing problem in the north of the country, near the border and the Golden Triangle, a hub worldwide for illicit drugs.
Last year, authorities seized a record amount of methamphetamine – nearly 172 tonnes – in East and Southeast Asia in 2021, including the first shipment of more than a billion methamphetamine tablets.
“There’s a lot of manufacturing in the Mekong sub-region, and there’s also a lot of traffic through Thailand,” Raymond said. “So all of that means there are more people developing problems with meth, and I think that has to be seen as a pretty big cause of what’s happened here.”
The mix of drugs and mental health issues among the forces is a problem Thailand has to deal with, he added.
“Thailand may need to start thinking more about how it handles the mental health of professionals, especially those who have access to firearms, or who have grown accustomed to being used to violence. as a sort of tool for their profession.”