Mourners pray at a Thai temple filled with childhood memorabilia

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand (AP) — Grief-stricken families prayed Saturday morning at a Buddhist temple filled with childhood mementos, flowers and photos of the smiling toddlers killed as they slept under blankets at a day care center in northeastern Thailand.

Coffins containing the 36 dead, 24 of them children and most of them preschoolers, were released on Friday and placed at Wat Rat Samakee and two other temples in the city, amid rice paddies in one of Thailand’s poorest regions.

Several mourners stayed at Wat Rat Samakee overnight, in keeping with the tradition of keeping company with those who died young.

“All the relatives are here to make use of those who died,” said Pensiri Thana, an aunt of one of the victims, referring to an important Buddhist practice. He was among those who stayed the night in the temple. “It is a tradition to hang out with our young people. It is our belief that we must be with them so that they are not alone.”

The carnage left no one unmoved in the small town, but community officials found that helping others helped ease their grief, at least momentarily.

“At first, we all felt so awful and couldn’t take it. All the officials feel sorry for the people here. But we have to take care of everyone, all these 30 victims. We run and take care of the people, giving them moral support,” said Somneuk Thongthalai, a local district official.

A mourning ceremony will continue for three days before funerals under royal patronage, which will culminate in the cremation of the bodies according to Buddhist tradition.

No clear motive may ever be known for Thailand’s deadliest mass killing after the shooter left the daycare on Thursday and killed his wife and son at home before killing himself.

Late Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida visited hospitals where seven people injured in the attack are being treated. The monarch met with family members of the victims in what he said was an attempt to boost morale.

“It is a tragedy that this bad thing happened,” the king told reporters in a rare public appearance. “But right now, we have to think about what we can do to improve things to the best of our ability.”

Outside the Young Child Development Center in Uthai Sawan, bouquets of white roses and carnations lined an outside wall, along with five tiny juice boxes, bags of corn chips and a stuffed animal.

At Wat Rat Samakee, mourners and those trying to offer support thronged the grounds.

“It was too much. I can’t accept this,” Oy Yodkhao, 51, said Friday, sitting on a bamboo mat in the oppressive heat as relatives gave her water and gently mopped her forehead.

Tawatchai Sriphu’s 4-year-old grandson was killed, and she said she was worried about the child’s siblings. The rice farming family is close, with three generations living under one roof.

Police identified the shooter as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant who was fired earlier this year on a drug charge involving methamphetamine. An employee at the daycare said Panya’s son had attended but had not been there for about a month.

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 guns per 100 people. That’s still well below the U.S. rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australian non-profit

Thailand’s previous worst mass murder it involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a shopping mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding security forces at bay for about 16 hours before being killed by them.

The previous worst attack on civilians was a bombing in 2015 at a Bangkok shrine that killed 20 people. It was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for the crackdown on their network.


Associated Press writers Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul and Grant Peck in Bangkok contributed to this report.


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