A former policeman burst into a daycare centre in north-eastern Thailand on Thursday, killing dozens of children and teachers and then firing on more people as he fled in the deadliest rampage in the nation’s history.
The attacker, who authorities said had been sacked from the force earlier this year because of a drug offence, took his own life after killing his own wife and child at home.
A witness said staff at the childcare centre in the town of Nongbua Lamphu locked the door when they saw the man approaching with a gun, but he shot his way in.
In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members could be heard weeping outside the centre, and one image showed the floor of one room smeared with blood and sleeping mats scattered about. Pictures of the alphabet and other colourful decorations adorned the walls.
At least 37 people were killed in the attack, at least 24 of them children, according to police spokesman Archayon Kraithong. Another 12 people were injured.
A witness, who was not named, told Thailand’s Kom Chad Luek television at the scene: “The teacher who died, she had a child in her arms.
“I didn’t think he would kill children, but he shot at the door and shot right through it.”
Police identified the suspect as 34-year-old former police officer Panya Kamrap. Police Major General Paisal Luesomboon told PPTV in an interview that he was sacked from the force earlier this year because of drug-related offences.
He used multiple weapons in the attack, including a handgun, a shotgun and a knife, Maj Gen Paisel said.
Local police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapha told reporters that the suspect was a sergeant on the force before he was dismissed, and that the main weapon he used was a 9mm pistol that he had purchased himself.
“We are still investigating all of this and have to learn from it,” he said. “Today is the first day and we don’t have all the details.”
Firearms-related deaths in Thailand are much lower than in countries like the United States and Brazil, but higher than in countries like Japan and Singapore that have strict gun control laws.
The rate of firearms related deaths in 2019 was about four per 100,000, compared with about 11 per 100,000 in the US and nearly 23 per 100,000 in Brazil.
Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.
The country’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a shopping centre in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who was to travel to the town on Friday, told reporters initial reports were that the former officer was having personal problems.
“This shouldn’t happen,” he said. “I feel deep sadness toward the victims and their relatives.”