'I can't accept this': Mourners pray for lost ones after Thai nursery massacre

A relative cries outside the the site of the attack on the Young Children's Development Center in the rural town of Uthai Sawan Credit: AP

Grief-stricken families prayed on Saturday at a Buddhist temple filled with children's keepsakes, flowers and photos of the smiling toddlers who were slain as they napped on blankets at a day care centre in northeastern Thailand.

Coffins containing the 36 killed, 24 of them children and most of them preschoolers, were released on Friday and placed inside Wat Rat Samakee and two other temples in the town nestled among rice paddies in one of Thailand's poorest regions.

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

“All the relatives are here to make merit on behalf of those who died,” said Pensiri Thana, an aunt of one of the victims, referring to an important Buddhist practice.

Among those mourning the loss of their little loved ones is Tukta Wongsila, whose 4-year-old daughter was killed in the attack. Her daughter's nickname was Plai Fon. In Thai, it means “the end of the rainy season” - a time of happiness. 

She was among those staying the night at the temple. "It is a tradition that we keep company with our young ones. It is our belief that we should be with them so they are not lonely.”

“She was a such a good girl,” Bandal said. “Such a good girl.”

Tukta Wongsila grieves with her father Saart as holds her daughter Siriprapa “Plai Fon” Prasertsuk's picture, one of the many victims Credit: AP

At least 37 people have been killed by an ex-police officer in a mass shooting that began at a nursery school in Thailand.

Panya Kamrap, 34, opened fire in the town of Nongbua Lamphu in the northeast of the country on Thursday afternoon, killing at least 24 children and 13 adults.

The massacre left no one untouched in the small town, but community officials found helping others was helping assuage their own grief, at least momentarily.

“At first, all of us felt so terrible and couldn’t accept this. All the officials feel sad with the people here." Somneuk Thongthalai, a local district official, said.

"But we have to look after everyone, all these 30 victims. We are running around and taking care of the people, giving them moral support."

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

Monks view photos of the victims of a mass killing attack before a washing ritual starts at Wat Rat Samakee temple in north eastern Thailand Credit: AP

No clear motive may ever be known for Thailand’s deadliest mass killing after the perpetrator left the day care centre on Thursday and killed his wife and son at home before taking his own life.

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

“It is a tragedy that this evil thing has happened,” the king told reporters in a rare public appearance.

“But right now, we have to think of what we can do to improve things to the best of our ability.”

Outside the Young Children’s 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.

A photo of attack victim Siriprapa “Plai Fon” Prasertsuk is sits on top of her coffin inside a temple in north eastern Thailand Credit: AP

At Wat Rat Samakee, mourners and those trying to lend them support crowded the grounds.

“It was just too much. I can’t accept this,” said Oy Yodkhao, 51, whose 4-year-old grandson Tawatchai Sriphu was killed, and she said she worried for the child's siblings. The family of rice farmers is close, with three generations living under one roof.

An employee at the day care told Thai media Panya's son had attended but hadn't been there for about a month. Police have said they believe Panya was under a lot of stress from tensions between him and his wife, and money problems.

Panya was cremated on Saturday in the neighbouring province of Udon Thani after Buddhist temples in Uthai Thani refused to host his funeral, Thai media reported.

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Manager reported that his mother, carrying out the traditional bathing ritual at the side of his coffin, implored Panya's spirit: “When you’re born in the next life, don’t kill anyone. I love you, son. If you had any problems, why didn’t you talk to me? Don’t do this again. I’ve made merit for you. Go to heaven, my son."

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 people. That’s still far lower than the U.S. rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org nonprofit organization.

Thailand's previous worst mass killing 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 off security forces for some 16 hours before being killed by them.

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