UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand (AP) – The little girl’s nickname was Plai Fon. In Thai it means “the end of the rainy season” – a time of happiness.
And then, in a horrific outbreak of violence, the happiness that the chubby four-year-old had symbolized for her adoring family was shattered. In its place is an unfathomable agony over what happened to Plai Fon in a massacre that began at her Thai daycare and left 36 people dead plus the killer.
“When she woke up she would say, ‘I love you mom and dad and brother,'” her 28-year-old mother, Tukta Wongsila, recalled of her daughter’s usual morning routine. Tukta’s sadness at the memory soon took her breath away.
At least 24 of the victims of Thursday’s gun and knife attack in northeast Thailand were children, mostly preschoolers. A day after their short lives were taken, their distraught families spent hours outside an administration office near the daycare, waiting for their children’s bodies to be released.
Authorities had told the families to gather at the office so they could process compensation claims and meet the prime minister. But Tukta didn’t bother with forms or formalities. She just wanted her little girl.
“I want my daughter to have a ceremony as soon as possible,” she whined, tears streaming from her red eyes. “All this insurance money, I don’t want it. I just want her back for the funeral.”
Tukta lives with her family in Uthai Sawan, a rural community in one of the poorest regions of the country, not far from the Laos border. Like many residents, they have long struggled to pay the bills.
Tukta and her husband work on the family rice farm during the growing season and, with a little luck, earn around $2,600 a year. On their days off, they take odd jobs to supplement their income. The couple and their children share a home with Tukta’s mother-in-law and bedridden father-in-law. Moving to a bigger city for better jobs was impossible because they had to take care of their young children and aging parents.
Plai Fon, whose official name was Siriprapa Prasertsuk, was the eldest of Tukta’s two children, three years older than her little brother. She was tiny, with black hair and plump cheeks that curved into a bright smile. It was a smile her grandmother, 62-year-old Bandal Pornsora, had already missed.
“She was such a good girl,” Bandal said. “Such a good girl.”
On Thursday, Plai Fon visited the Young Children’s Development Center, where the walls are adorned with cheerful images of flowers and butterflies. It was early afternoon when a discharged police officer burst in and began shooting and stabbing the children who were snuggled on mats and blankets taking their naps.
As Tukta awaited her daughter’s body on Friday, she reflected on the horror Plai Fon endured in her final moments.
“I want to see my daughter to see what she looked like,” she said. “I don’t know how much pain he caused her. (Even) when she was sleeping, she must have felt the pain. I don’t know what cost her life. I just want to see her face.”
Hours later she would finally do it at a nearby Buddhist temple where the relatives of the dead had gathered to receive the bodies.
Families who came out of the temple spoke of massive lacerations on their children. Many screamed. Some fainted.
Tukta went to the temple with her husband and mother-in-law. When they came out again, Tukta’s husband collapsed. He was taken to the hospital.
Tukta sobbed and grabbed her father’s arms. Plai Fon’s eyes, she said, were wide open.
On the lawn behind the temple, the couple hugged, trying to offer comfort that would not come.
Tukta clutched a framed photo of Plai Fon drawing with a yellow marker and staring into the camera with large, dark eyes. The young mother’s fingers moved on the edge of the frame as she leaned against her father, and they both wiped away tears.
Every night before bed, Tukta said, Plai Fon would say, “I want to sleep with Mommy.”
Tukta cried at the memory.
“Those are the words I hear every night,” she said. “But I missed those words last night.”
Associated Press writer Kristen Gelineau in Sydney contributed to this report.