- Ex-cop kills 34 with knife and pistol at daycare center
- After the attack, he killed his wife and son and turned the gun on himself
- The police portray the attacker as stressed out by marital and financial worries
- Thai flags fly at half-mast on buildings to mourn the attack
UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand, Oct. 7 (Reuters) – Grieving relatives sobbed and clutched toys at a daycare center on Friday, a day after a former police officer killed 34 people, most of them young children, in a knife-and-gun rampage that has Thailand horrified.
Government buildings flew flags at half-mast to mourn the victims – 23 of them children – of the slaughter in Uthai Sawan, a city 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok, the capital of the largely Buddhist country.
After leaving the daycare center filled with the dead, dying and wounded, the ex-officer went home and shot his wife and son dead before turning his gun on himself.
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Police identified the attacker as Panya Khamrap, 34, a former police sergeant who had been fired on drug charges and was on trial on a drug charge.
It was not clear if Panya was still using drugs. An autopsy report showed he had not used them on the day of the attack, national police chief Damrongsak Kittipraphat said on Friday.
“The reasons are probably unemployment, no money and family problems,” he said, adding that the attacker and his wife had “a long history of issues.”
A witness, Kittisak Polprakan, said he saw the attacker calmly walk out of the daycare center – a pink, one-story building surrounded by lawn and small palm trees – after the massacre “as if he were just going for a normal walk”.
“I don’t know (why he did that) but he was under a lot of pressure,” Panya’s mother told Nation TV, citing her son’s debt and drug use.
Most children, between the ages of two and five, were dismembered while adults were shot dead, police said, after one of the world’s worst child deaths in a massacre by a single killer in recent history.
Police officer Chakkraphat Wichitvaidya told Reuters autopsies showed the children had been slashed open with a large knife, sometimes multiple times, and adults shot dead.
Three boys and one girl who survived were being treated in hospital, police said.
“I IMMEDIATELY KNEW”
The aunt of a three-year-old boy who died in the slaughter held a stuffed dog and a toy tractor on her lap as she recounted how she rushed to the scene when the news first broke.
“I came and saw two bodies in front of the school and knew immediately the child was already dead,” said Suwimon Sudfanpitak, 40, who had been looking after her nephew Techin while his parents were working in Bangkok.
Another of the dead was Kritsana Sola, a chubby two-year-old who loved dinosaurs and soccer and was nicknamed “Captain”. He just got a new haircut and is showing it off proudly, said his aunt Naliwan Duangket, 27.
Late in the afternoon, relatives howled in pain as funerals were to be held at Wat Rat Sammakhi. Some collapsed and had to be laid on straw mats and fanned by medical staff.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha met the victims’ families in a sweltering compound full of police and media after laying flowers and observing a minute’s silence outside the center.
The government will do its best to take care of the families and the prime minister has asked everyone “to be strong to face this great loss,” government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said.
Late on Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn visited the hospital where the injured were taken, according to photos released by the government’s PR office.
Photos taken at the center by rescuers and provided to Reuters showed the tiny bodies of those killed on blankets. Abandoned juice boxes lay scattered on the floor.
“He came up to me and I begged him for mercy, I didn’t know what to do,” one distraught woman told ThaiPBS, fighting back tears.
“He didn’t say anything, he shot at the door while the children were sleeping,” said another woman, distressed.
When the attack began, there were about 24 children at the center, fewer than usual as heavy rain had kept many people away, district official Jidapa Boonsom said.
Hundreds of people expressed their condolences on the Uthai Sawan Child Development Center’s Facebook page under his last post before the massacre, an account of the children’s visit to a Buddhist temple in September.
In a message, the Vatican said Pope Francis was deeply saddened by the “horrific attack,” which he condemned as an “act of unspeakable violence against innocent children.”
The massacre was among the worst involving children killed by one person.
In Norway, Anders Breivik killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp in 2011, while the death toll in other cases in 2012 includes 20 children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, 16 at Dunblane in Scotland in 1996 and 19 one school in Uvalde, Texas, this year.
Gun laws are strict in Thailand, but gun ownership is high compared to some Southeast Asian countries, and illegal guns are rampant, with many imported by torn neighbors.
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Additional reporting from Orathai Sriring, Panarat Thepgumpanat, Chayut Setboonsarng, Juarwee Kittisilpa in Bangkok and Philip Pullella in Rome Writing from Ed Davies Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Clarence Fernandez, Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry
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