Thailand nursery attack: Grief-stricken Uthai Sawan parents identify their own children as victims

Credit: AP

Grief-stricken parents have had to identify the bodies of their own young children, who were killed at a nursery in Thailand.

On Friday, the small town of Uthai Sawan continued to mourn the 37 slain at a nursery the day before.

As well as dealing with grief, some townspeople were required to identify their children's bodies, placed in tiny white coffins.

Children comprised 24 of the 37 people who were killed by sacked police officer Panya Kamrap.

On Friday morning, royal and government representatives, dressed in white, military-style coats, stood in lines to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables, in front of the Young Children’s Development Centre's main door.

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

“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart," said Seksan Sriraj, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the centre and was due to give birth this month.

The footage captures distressing scenes, as ITV News correspondent Dan Rivers reports from Thailand

This video contains distressing images

“My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life. That’s about it.”

When asked whether he thought the child care centre was secure enough, Mr Seksan noted the attacker had been a police officer.

He added: "He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”

Family members laid white flowers on the floor of the development centre. Credit: AP

Many relatives were gathered in front of the child care centre to start the process of claiming compensation. Psychologists have also been sent to the site to help mourners process events.

Seven of the 10 individuals who were wounded in the attack remained in hospital on Friday morning.

Later on Friday, relatives received the bodies of those killed at the local Buddhist temple, with some screaming or fainting as the small white coffins were opened.

Greiving family members carry a blanket and milk bottle during the mourning ceremony. Credit: AP

For a time, the grounds outside the temple were crowded with people overcome by grief.

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

Her four-year-old grandson Tawatchai Sriphu was killed, and she said she worried for the child's siblings.

Som-Mai Pitfai, 58, collapsed when she saw the body of her three-year-old niece. "When I looked, I saw she had been slashed in the face with a knife," she said while holding back tears.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida are expected to visit two hospitals treating the wounded, the day after the attack took place, while Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha is expected to visit the daycare centre and hospitals.

Police have speculated that former police sergeant Kamrap, 34, targeted the centre because it was near his home.

He was fired from his job earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine and had been due to appear in court on Friday.

Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man and child in front of the building before walking towards the classroom.

Panya Kamrap carried out the deadliest shooting rampage in Thailand's history on Thursday. Credit: AP

Teachers at the child care centre locked the glass front door, but the gunman shot and kicked his way through it.

In an interview with Amarin TV, Satita Boonsom said she and three other teachers climbed the centre's fence to escape and call the police.

By the time she returned, the children were dead. She said one child who was covered by a blanket survived the attack, apparently because the assailant assumed he was dead.

She said the centre usually has around 70 to 80 children, but there were fewer at the time of the attack because the semester had ended for older children and rain prevented a school bus from operating.

“They wouldn’t have survived,” she added.

Seksan Sriraj, 28, lost his pregnant wife who was a teacher at the day care centre. Credit: AP

The children, mainly two and three-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their bodies still lying on blankets.

Panya was found dead after killing his wife and child at home before taking his own life.

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

A video taken by a first responder arriving at the scene showed rescuers rushing into the single-story building, past a shattered glass front door, with drops of blood visible on the ground in the entryway.

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In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members wept outside the building.

One of the youngest survivors is a three-year-old boy, who was riding a tricycle close to his mother and grandmother when the assailant began slashing them with the knife.

The mother died from her wounds. The boy and grandmother were being treated at separate hospitals, according to local media.

Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia.

The country is estimated to have 15.1 weapons per 100 of the population compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan.

Though that number is still far lower than the US rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s - a nonprofit organization.

Thailand's previous worst mass shooting was carried out by a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, two years ago.

The attacker killed 29 people, as Ratchasima was able to hold off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being shot dead.

Its death toll surpassed that of the previous worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok which killed 20 people.