Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Prayers, sorrow at temples as Thailand mourns children slain in massacre

Prayers, sorrow at temples as Thailand mourns children slain in massacre

UTHAI SAWAN (Reuters) - Hundreds of people gathered in temples in northeast Thailand on Saturday, offering candles, toys and prayers to mark the lives of more than 30 mostly child victims of a gun and knife rampage that sent shock around the world.

Most of the children, aged between two and five, were slashed to death on Thursday, while adults were shot, police said in the aftermath of one of the world's worst child death tolls in a massacre by a single killer in recent history.

At the Si Uthai temple on Saturday, relatives and family of those killed joined a devastated community in paying respects to those slain by a former Bangkok policeman, who was suspended from police duty after admitting to using methamphetamines.

They lit candles before coffins topped with floral wreaths and framed photographs of the dead, including toddler Pattarawat Jamnongnid, dressed in a pink American football shirt, who was one of two child victims nicknamed "Captain", after a famous actor.

Atop his coffin was a model dinosaur and a bottle of milk.

His mother, 40-year-old factory worker Daoreung Jamnongnid, said he was her only child and was energetic and talkative.

At two years and 10 months, he was the youngest victim, she said, and he already knew the alphabet.

"He was so smart," Daoreung said. "He liked to watch documentaries with his father."

The former policeman's last victims were his wife and child at home, before he turned the gun on himself.

Police identified the attacker as Panya Khamrap, 34, a former police sergeant who was facing trial on a drugs charge.

It was not clear if Panya still used drugs. An autopsy report indicated he had not used them on the day of the attack, police said on Friday.

'EVIL INCIDENT'

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was concerned about trauma in the community after the tragedy, his spokesperson said on Saturday.

The mental health department urged people not to watch news coverage of the aftermath and to cease sharing violent images on social media.

"The prime minister asked everyone to support each other and get through this brutal loss together," government spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said.

Three boys and two girls survived the attack and all but one of those was in hospital, according to police.

Late on Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn visited the hospital where the injured were taken.

Dressed in a dark grey suit, the king said he was deeply saddened and expressed his sorrow over what was "an evil incident".

"There are no other words to describe this feeling," he told people at the hospital.

"I want to give you all moral support to be strong, so that the souls of those children can have a sense of relief that their families will remain strong and be able to move forward."

Kittisak Polprakan, 29, who was in the area at the time of the killing spree, on Friday described Panya as being calm as he emerged from the daycare centre having killed 22 preschool children, slashing most of them with a large curved blade.

"I didn't think a tragedy had happened ... it was so quiet," he said.

"There was no noise, no screaming, nothing. It was only him who walked out."

On Saturday, people left toy flowers and toy trucks outside the Uthai Sawan daycare centre, in an offering to the spirits of those killed.

At another temple, Wat Rat Samakee, emotions were intense, with relatives crying as saffron-robed monks chanted.

Villagers sat on carpets with hands clasped together in front a series of caskets adorned with flowers and portraits of smiling children murdered in the ex-policeman's rampage.

A large toy sports car was placed on one of the coffins lined with gold-coloured fabric bearing Buddhist symbols.

One woman dressed in black, who lost two nephews aged 3, was seen weeping as she knelt, palms pressed against one of their coffins.