Heartbroken families pray for victims of Thai child-care centre shooting

King Maha Vajiralongkorn has met survivors and relatives

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Grieving families have gathered at a Buddhist temple to pray and make offerings to the spirits of their toddlers who were killed in a brutal rampage by a former police officer at a day-care centre in north-eastern Thailand this week.

The family members gathered on Sunday at Wat Rat Samakee, one of three temples where the bodies of the 36 victims — 24 of them children and most of them preschoolers — will be placed for funeral rites and cremation on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Relatives sat in front of the tiny coffins while Buddhist monks around them chanted prayers.

Later, they placed trays of food, toys and milk along the outside of the temple walls as offerings to the spirits of their murdered children.

They were given the belongings of the children who were killed at the day-care centre, AFP reported.

Gathered in front of a makeshift memorial in front of the building, they received the items as the Buddhist monks said prayers.

“Today, all the relatives will hold a ceremony to guide children’s souls back to the temple,” said Panida Prawana, a relative of a victim.

Late on Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn met survivors and relatives at a hospital in the north-eastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province.

In a rare public interaction with his subjects, the king said he "shares their grief".

On Saturday, families and well-wishers offered prayers at a Buddhist temple, beginning three days of funeral rituals for the victims.

Incense mingled with the smell of countless bouquets arrayed around the coffins, many topped with photos of the smiling faces of children cut down by sacked police sergeant Panya Khamrab.

Flowers and toys offered as gifts to the departed youngsters piled up at the gates of the nursery as the close-knit community in rural Na Klang district struggled to comprehend the atrocity.

Family members on Sunday cried as they lit incense and candles, and made offerings as part of the ceremony meant to help guide the lost souls of their loved ones back to their bodies.

Towards the end of the ceremony, the relatives called out “Come back home” and “Come back with us” into the empty day-care centre, many with tears in their eyes, before walking away.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to attend an evening prayer at one of the temples later on Sunday.

Deadliest shooting

The mass killing on Thursday was the nation’s deadliest, with the perpetrator killing dozens at the Young Children’s Development Centre in Uthai Sawan and wounding several others. He then left the day-care centre and drove home, where he killed his wife and son before taking his own life.

Panya, 34, was a former policeman fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine.

An employee at the day-care centre told Thai media that Panya’s son had attended the centre but had not been there for about a month. Police said they believe Panya was under stress from tensions between him and his wife, and money problems.

Mass killings in Thailand are rare but not unheard of.

In 2020, a soldier opened fire in and around a mall in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 people and holding off the security forces for 16 hours before being killed by them.

Before that, a 2015 bombing was carried out at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people, allegedly by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.

Updated: October 09, 2022, 2:43 PM