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‘I cried until I had no more tears’: Thailand mourns shooting that killed 24 children, 12 others

At least 24 of the 36 people killed in Thursday’s attack in the small town of Uthai Sawan were children.

On Friday morning, royal and government representatives in white, military-style coats lined up to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the main entrance of the Young Children’s Development Center.

They were followed by weeping family members, who folded their hands in prayer before white flowers were laid out on the wooden floor.

“I cried till tears were coming out of my eyes. They are running in my heart,” said 28-year-old Saxon Sriraj, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the center and was due to give birth this month.

“My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and have to live. If I could not move forward, my wife and my child would worry about me, and would not be reborn in the next life. that’s about it.”

Several relatives gathered in front of the child care center to start the process of claiming compensation and psychologists were also sent to the spot to help them. Of the 10 injured, seven were hospitalized on Friday as well.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected to visit two hospitals treating the injured later on Friday, and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha’s daycare center and hospitals.

Asked if he thinks the child care center is secure enough, Saxon said the attacker was a police officer.

“He came to do what he had in mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did their best.” Police speculated that the gunman targeted the center as it was near his house. They identified him as 34-year-old Panya Kamrap, a former police constable fired earlier this year over a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He was to appear in court on Friday.

Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man having lunch before stopping to reload.

Staff at the child care center closed the door, but the gunman made his way through it. The children, mainly two and three-year-olds, were taking afternoon naps, and photos taken by first responders showed their small bodies still lying on blankets.

Panya gave his life by killing his wife and child in the house.

Noprat Langkapin, a local official in Uthai Sawan, said the victims were “all children in our community”.

“The relatives, family and close friends are deeply saddened by this incident. And we all felt it very quickly throughout the community. Most of us are feeling sad and sad because they are our children.”

The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu Province, one of the country’s poorest areas.

A video taken by first responders who arrived at the scene showed rescuers running into the one-story building through a broken glass front door, with drops of blood on the ground in the entrance. The photographs showed bullet marks on the faces and heads of the victims.

In footage posted online after the attack, family members were seen crying outside the building. The floor was covered in blood, and pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.

Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 population compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan.

This is still far lower than the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org non-profit organization.

The US and Australia expressed sympathy and solidarity. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted: “All Australians send their love and condolences.”

“This violence is both senseless and heartbreaking,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.

Thailand’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding security forces in check for nearly 16 hours and was eventually killed by them.

About 60 others were injured in that attack. Its death toll exceeded the previous worst attack on civilians, the 2015 bombing of a shrine in Bangkok, which killed 20 people.

This was allegedly done in retaliation for the actions of human traffickers on their network.

Last month, a clerk at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok shot coworkers, killing two and arresting another.

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