Grief and shock in Thailand after mass killing of ‘tiny angels’

Thais have turned to social media to mourn as 4.7 million people sent posts under a commemorative hashtag on Friday.

Bouquets of flowers and children's drinks are placed outside a nursery in Thailand on October 7 2022, the day after a mass killing by a former police officer in northeastern Nong Bua Lamphu province [AFP/Manan Vatsyayana]
Bouquets of flowers and children's drinks are placed outside a nursery in Thailand on October 7 2022, the day after a mass killing by a former police officer in northeastern Nong Bua Lamphu province [AFP/Manan Vatsyayana]

Grief and anger have engulfed Thailand a day after the mass killing of children and adults at a preschool daycare centre by a former Thai police officer who went on a rampage of stabbing and shooting before he shot his wife, child, and himself.

The country reeled as details of Thursday’s grisly attack in a small town in one of the nation’s poorest regions emerged, and as the death toll mounted to eventually reach 37 dead with at least 24 children among the slain.

What unfolded at the daycare centre in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu has been described as the worst mass killing by a single attacker in Thailand’s recent history.

Thailand’s royal household and government representatives in white military uniforms laid wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the daycare centre’s main door on Friday morning, as a faded Thai flag flew at half-staff above.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha visited the site on Friday. Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected to go to hospitals, where seven of the 10 people who were wounded remain.

A vigil was planned in a central Bangkok park.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha pays his respects outside the day care centre which was the scene of a mass shooting, in the town of Uthai Sawan, around 500 km northeast of Bangkok, in the province of Nong Bua Lam Phu, Thailand October 7, 2022. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha pays his respects outside the daycare centre which was the scene of a mass shooting [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

The mother of Supaporn Pramongmuk, a 25-year-old teacher at the centre who was eight months pregnant and killed along with her young students, said she had cried until her tears ran dry.

“Tears are falling inside my heart,” Pranee Srisutham told Al Jazeera on Thursday night at an emergency centre set up near the preschool.

“I can’t cry, I can’t speak,” she said.

A family of a victim mourns as they carry a blanket and a milk bottle during a ceremony for those killed in the attack on the Young Children's Development Center in the rural town of Uthai Sawan, north eastern Thailand, Friday, Oct. 7, 2022. A former policeman facing a drug charge burst into a day care center in northeastern Thailand on Thursday, killing dozens of preschoolers and teachers before shooting more people as he fled in the deadliest rampage in the nation's history. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
The family of a victim mourns as they carry a blanket and a milk bottle during a ceremony on Friday for those killed in the attack [Sakchai Lalit/AP Photo]
A red carpet, seen ahead of the arrival of Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is laid out toward the nursery, where a former police officer killed at least 37 people in a mass shooting, in Thailand's northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province on October 7, 2022. - Weeping, grief-stricken families gathered on October 7 outside a Thai nursery where an ex-policeman murdered nearly two dozen young children in one of Thailand's worst mass killings. (Photo by Manan VATSYAYANA / AFP)
A red carpet, seen before the arrival of Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn, is laid out towards the nursery on Friday [Manan Vatsyayana/AFP]

‘Tiny angels’

People turned to social media to mourn. More than 4.7 million people had sent posts by Friday afternoon under a Thai hashtag that translated as #MassShootingNongBuaLamphu.

“Humanity, not tiny angels, died,” wrote one Twitter user, identified as @psmyheart.

Some other messages included, “RIP Children of Heaven” and “I hope you are reborn as angels in heaven”.

On the Facebook page of the Mutahi Sawant Child Development Centre, where the attack took place, hundreds of people posted condolences under the centre’s last post before the massacre – that final post was an account of a visit the children had made to a Buddhist temple in September.

“It’s so heart-breaking. They were small kids, they did not deserve this. Some of them were still in their afternoon naps,” said 29-year-old Bangkok resident Chamita Itthiponwitoon.

Police identified the attacker as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant who was fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine.

He had been due to appear in court on Friday. An employee told a Thai TV station that Panya’s son had attended the daycare centre but had not been there for about a month.

After attacking the children and staff at the centre, Panya drove home and shot his wife and son before turning the gun on himself, police said.

Child victims

Most of the child victims were aged between two and five years of age, many were killed with a machete-like blade farmers use to cut sugarcane, police said.

Amid the grief, questions are being raised about guns, drugs, mental health and the accountability of the security forces in Thailand.

The attack comes two years after a mass shooting by an ex-soldier at a shopping mall and army base in Nakhon Ratchasima province, commonly known as Korat, in which 29 people were killed.

“The mass shootings in Korat and Nong Bua Lamphu reflect some problems in the army and police, including mental health and problems with command,” opposition politician Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said in a post on Twitter shared 125,000 times.

“If the problems are not solved, it would mean that the lives of people are at risk from the people who have these weapons in their hands.”

Twitter user @jaoohja touched a nerve with a post shared more than 14,500 times that included a photograph of some graffiti with the message: “Who do you call when the police murder?”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies