Uthai Sawan, Thailand, Oct 7 (EFE).- Thailand was in mourning on Friday following a massacre that left at least 37 people, including 22 children, dead in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu.
Hundreds of people – including relatives of the victims, residents, officials and journalists – gathered in the surroundings of the nursery on the outskirts of the rural town of Uthai Sawan, home to about 80,000.
Distraught and weeping, many relatives of those killed Thursday lay white roses in tribute to their loved ones. One woman hugged a blanket and a baby’s bottle. A man held a child’s shoe.
The nursery, a small four or five-bedroom building with a tiled roof within a complex of municipal buildings, was not cordoned off, although the windows and doors were sealed.
Floral wreaths, including one from the country’s royal family, were placed outside the front door.
Officials were preparing for the evening visit of King Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida to the wounded in hospitals in the area, as well as the visit of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha.
Prayut on Thursday ordered an investigation into the incident, and on Friday instructed that flags at all state agencies be flown at half-mast.
Early Thursday afternoon, 34-year-old former police officer Panya Kamrarb burst into the nursery and carried out a violent gun and knife attack, killing mostly children while they were napping, authorities said.
He then fled in a white pickup truck, sparking a manhunt, and went to his house where he murdered his wife and son before committing suicide.
Among the fatalities in the nursery, which catered for children from the age of two to five, was a pregnant teacher. Another 15 were wounded, eight of them seriously.
Hospitals were still calling for blood donations on Friday.
Panya had served as an officer until he was arrested for methamphetamine possession and expelled from the force, police said Thursday.
National police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapas said he had attended a court hearing earlier Thursday morning on drugs charges before he barged into the nursery, and was due to face a verdict Friday, according to broadcaster Thai PBS.
World leaders and officials have expressed their condolences over the tragedy.
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres was “shocked and saddened by the horrific mass shooting,” his spokesperson said.
Britain’s Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted: “I am shocked to hear of the horrific events in Thailand this morning. My thoughts are with all those affected and the first responders. The UK stands with the Thai people at this terrible time.”
Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted: “It’s impossible to comprehend the heartbreak of this horrific news from Thailand. All Australians send their love and condolences.”
United States National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the US was “horrified by the tragic shooting.”
“The images are heartbreaking and our deepest condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones. We condemn this act of violence and stand ready to assist our long-standing ally Thailand in whatever they need,” he added.
Unicef Thailand condemned “all forms of violence against children. No child should be a target or witness of violence anywhere, anytime.”
The massacre has shocked Uthai Sawan and the rest of the country.
Gun ownership in Thailand is relatively high compared with other countries in the region, but mass shootings of this nature are rare.
In 2020, a soldier killed at least 29 people and wounded 58 in northeastern Nakhon Ratchasima province.
Last month, a soldier shot dead two colleagues and wounded another at the Army War College of the Army Training Command in Bangkok. EFE