Relatives wailed and collapsed in grief over the small coffins of children Friday after a fired police officer stormed a rural Thai daycare centre at naptime and massacred dozens of people.
Thailand's deadliest mass killing left virtually no one untouched in the small community nestled among rice paddies in one of the nation's poorest regions. Grief also gripped the rest of the country, where flags were lowered to half-staff and schoolchildren said prayers to honour the dead.
At least 24 of the 36 people killed in Thursday’s grisly gun and knife attack were children, mostly preschoolers.
“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart," said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was due to give birth this month and who worked at the Young Children’s Development Center in Uthai Sawan.
“My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life," he said.
A stream of people, including Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, other government representatives and relatives themselves, left flowers at the daycare on Friday. By afternoon, bouquets of white roses and carnations lined the wall outside, along with five tiny juice boxes, bags of corn chips and a stuffed animal.
Later, relatives received the bodies at the local Buddhist temple. As the small, white coffins were opened, some screamed, while others fainted and were revived with smelling salts. For a time, the grounds outside the temple were crowded with people overcome by grief.
“It was just too much. I can’t accept this,” said Oy Yodkhao, 51, sitting on a bamboo mat in the oppressive heat as relatives gave her water and gently mopped her brow.
Her 4-year-old grandson Tawatchai Sriphu was killed, and she said she worried for the child's siblings. The family of rice farmers is close, with three generations living under one roof.
Som-Mai Pitfai collapsed when she saw the body of her 3-year-old niece.
“When I looked, I saw she had been slashed in the face with a knife," the 58-year-old said, holding back tears.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected later in the day to go to hospitals, where seven of the 10 people wounded remain. A vigil was planned in a central park in Bangkok, the nation's capital.
Police identified the attacker as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court Friday. An employee told a Thai TV station that Panya's son had attended the day care but hadn't been there for about a month.
Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.
In an interview with Amarin TV, Satita Boonsom, who worked at the daycare, said staff locked the glass front door to the building after seeing the assailant shoot a child and his father out front. But the gunman shot and kicked his way through it.
The children, mainly preschoolers, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets. In some images, slashes to the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads could be seen.
Satita said she and three other teachers climbed the centre's fence to escape and call police. By the time she returned, the children were dead. She said one child who was covered by a blanket survived the attack, apparently because the assailant assumed he was dead.
She said the centre usually has around 70 to 80 children, but there were fewer at the time of the attack because the semester had ended for older children and rain prevented a school bus from operating.
“They wouldn’t have survived,” she said.
Satita added that the attacker's son hadn't been to the daycare recently because he was sick.
One of the youngest survivors is a 3-year-old boy who was riding a tricycle close to his mother and grandmother when the assailant began slashing them with the knife. The mother died from her wounds, and the boy and grandmother were being treated at hospitals, according to local media.