Thai ex-officer attacks day-care center, killing dozens, including 24 children

(WashingtonPost.com)

BANGKOK — A former police officer attacked a day-care center in northeastern Thailand with a pistol and a knife Thursday, in a rampage that left at least 36 people dead — at least 24 of them children, according to police.

The alleged attacker, identified by authorities as Panya Kamrab, 34, was fired from the police force in June after being caught with amphetamines. After the attack, he barricaded himself in his home and killed his wife, their 3-year-old son and himself.

At least 10 others were wounded, six critically, according to police. The murders unfolded in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu, a largely agricultural region with one of the highest poverty rates in Thailand.

Details of the attack, the deadliest of its kind in Thailand’s history, emerged over the course of a day that will go down in memory as a national nightmare. Videos of the aftermath shared on social media showed scenes of carnage and grief.

The former officer was due to appear in court Friday on drug-related charges. Police said he was on drugs during the attack, but did not specify further.

Panya barged into the day-care center in the Na Klang district, where his son was enrolled, just before 1 p.m. He began killing people, nearly all of them young children, mostly with a knife, before fleeing in a white pickup truck, National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat said. During his escape, he killed nine more people, running some over with his vehicle, according to police.

A teacher who escaped the rampage said Panya started shooting as soon as he approached the center, striking a group of day-care workers who were eating lunch in front of the building, the Bangkok Post reported. She said she was able to escape because the shooter ran out of bullets.

Close to 30 children, fewer than usual because of heavy rain, were at the day-care center when Padnya arrived, district official Jidapa Boonsom told Reuters. Boonsom was working in an office close by at the time of the tragedy.

Padnya then made his way into a locked room where kids were sleeping and attacked them with a knife, Jidapa said. A teacher who was eight months pregnant was also among the victims.

The youngest victim was 2 years old, officials at the Na Klang district police station told The Washington Post. They added that most of the children were asleep when the attack happened because it was nap time.

Videos shared widely on social media, which The Post has not verified independently, show families gathered in anguish outside the building. Others show scenes of carnage inside.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called the incident “shocking” in a statement. His spokesperson said he planned to visit the scene of the attack on Friday, the BBC reported. Flags are to be lowered to half-staff Friday, the prime minister’s office announced on Twitter.

Police chief Damrongsak said the victims will be placed “under royal patronage” by Thailand’s King Vajiralongkorn. The king and queen are set to visit victims’ families Friday.

U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan said the United States “was horrified” by the shooting and stands ready to assist Thailand in whatever it needs. “The images are heartbreaking and our deepest condolences go out to the families who lost loved ones,” he said in a statement.

The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok said it was “saddened by the tragic event in Nong Bua Lam Phu Province,” adding: “We stand with the people of Thailand.”

Other world leaders expressed their condolences Thursday, calling the incident “horrific.” “I am shocked to hear of the horrific events in Thailand this morning. My thoughts are with all those affected and the first responders,” British Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted.

“It’s impossible to comprehend the heartbreak of this horrific news from Thailand. All Australians send their love and condolences,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said.

UNICEF, the United Nations’ children agency, said in a statement that it was “saddened and shocked by the tragic shooting incident,” adding that places caring for young children “must be safe havens” for them “to learn, play and grow during their most critical years.”

Mass shootings are rare in Thailand, though rates of gun ownership — and gun homicides — are higher here than in other parts of Asia. Thailand, with a population of nearly 70 million, has more than 10 million privately owned guns, of which over 4 million are illegal, according to a database run by the University of Sydney.

In 2020, in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in Thailand’s history, a soldier who was angered over a personal land dispute killed 29 people and injured 57 others in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima.

The gunman trapped and killed victims inside a busy shopping mall, holding out for hours before he was eventually shot and killed by law enforcement. Deadly violence is less common in northern Thailand than in the south, where the military has been engaged in a decades-old conflict with insurgents. Some of the country’s deadliest events have been military crackdowns on protesters.

Soon after reports of the shooting in the Na Klang district first emerged, appeals for blood donations were posted on social media. People rushed to the nearby Nong Bua Lamphu district hospital, the Nation newspaper reported, and the hospital later said it had received enough blood to treat the wounded.

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