Hundreds of mourners and victims’ families gathered Tuesday evening to watch flames burn from rows of makeshift furnaces at cremation ceremonies for the young children and others who died in last week’s mass killings at a day care center in Thailand’s rural northeast.
The families bid their final goodbyes at a Buddhist temple a short distance from the Young Children’s Development Center in the town of Uthai Sawan, where a former policeman, who was fired from his job earlier this year for using drugs, barged in last Thursday and shot and stabbed children and their caregivers.
The police sergeant, Panya Kamrap, ended up killing 36 people, 24 of them children, in this small farming community before taking his own life. It was the biggest mass killing by an individual in Thailand’s history.
The ceremonies for most of the victims were held jointly to spare families from having to wait long hours for successive cremations to be completed, Phra Kru Adisal Kijjanuwat, the abbot of the Rat Samakee temple, said.
Gasoline fed the flames of the charcoal-fueled open-air pyres as the sky darkened at the temple.
On Tuesday morning, many of the young victims’ bodies had been outfitted as doctors, soldiers or astronauts — what they wanted to be when they grew up — before they were to be cremated in the evening.
Volunteer rescue worker Attarith Muangmangkang said his organization arranged for the costumes and assisted the families with changing the victims’ outfits Tuesday.
“The more we talked [to the families], we realized that these children also had dreams of becoming doctors, soldiers, astronauts, or police officers,” Attarith said. “We provided those uniforms for them.”
Mourners also placed children’s toys, candles, and incense sticks in front of the victims’ portraits at the temples.
Petchrung Sriphirom, 73, was one of many local residents who traveled to the temple on Tuesday to offer condolences to the families and make a small donation to help with funeral costs, which is a common Thai custom.
“I just want to help our friends and share our thoughts with them,” said Petchrung. “We are not talking about money or anything but rather sharing our thoughts and feelings as a fellow human being,”
The perpetrator’s body was cremated Saturday in a neighboring province after temples in Uthai Sawan refused to host his funeral, Thai media reported.
Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 people compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far lower than the U.S. rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s GunPolicy.org nonprofit organization.
Thailand’s previous worst mass killing involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.