BANGKOK - A former police officer armed with a gun and a knife attacked a childcare centre, leaving at least 38 dead on Thursday.
The gunman, identified as Panya Kamrab, 34, later shot his wife and child at home, before turning the gun on himself, said Thai police.
Police said Panya shot and stabbed teachers and children at the centre in the town of Uthai Sawan, 500km north-east of Bangkok in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu.
He also fired randomly at passers-by and rammed his truck into vehicles as he fled the scene.
According to the authorities, there were at least 22 children among the fatalities, some as young as two. At least 10 people were wounded, some severely.
The Nong Bua Lamphu provincial hospital sent out an urgent request for blood donations shortly after the shooting.
In a statement on Facebook, the Royal Thai police said that Panya was a police corporal at the Na Wang Police Station in Nong Bua Lamphu.
However, he was fired from the force in 2021 after he was found to have possessed drugs. He was also known to have abused drugs.
While the motive for the shooting is still unclear, police said that Panya had attended a court appointment related to drug offences before the incident, reported local media ThaiPBS.
National police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapas said that Panya, who had not quit his drug habit since his sacking, was due for another court appearance on Friday in a drug case that led to his dismissal.
“This might have led to hallucination from stress, and he eventually committed the crime, starting from the childcare centre, and later at his house,” said the police chief.
The massacre began around noon, when Panya forced his way into the childcare centre in the Na Klang district and opened fire, local media reported.
The children were believed to have been sleeping during the time of the incident.
Police spokesman Paisan Luesomboon said Panya began the attack after he failed to locate his child at the centre.
District official Jidapa Boonsom told Reuters that four or five members of staff, including a teacher who was eight months pregnant, were shot first.
Teachers who survived the attack said that their colleagues had tried to protect the children by locking the classroom door as Panya approached, but he broke it open and attacked the children with a knife.
One teacher told Thai Channel 8 News that she had heard loud noises and had thought it was firecrackers.
“I saw (two bodies) lying on the ground and noticed the man keeping the gun. But he pulled it out again to load bullets and pointed it at me, and I ran,” she said.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha offered his condolences in a Facebook post, and said he has ordered the police to fast-track investigations into the “horrifying” crime.
He also ordered all government agencies to lower their flags to half-mast on Friday.
Mr Prayut will be travelling to the province on Friday to visit the affected families.
The authorities have shut daycare centres in the area.
Thursday’s incident is the deadliest mass shooting since a 2020 incident where a soldier gunned down 29 people and injured more than 50 others in a 17-hour rampage in Nakhon Ratchasima, a north-eastern province of Thailand.
And while gun ownership laws are strict in Thailand, it is not uncommon for people to possess illegal or unlicensed firearms and for gun incidents to occur.
Police said that the gun used in Thursday’s attack had been acquired legally.
Here is a look at some past mass killings in the kingdom:
Sept 14, 2022: Yongyuth Mungkornkim, a clerk at the Royal Thai Army War College, killed two people and wounded one other in a shooting at a military facility in Bangkok.
The 59-year-old tried to flee the scene but surrendered himself later.
The man was thought to have mental health problems following brain surgery after a motorbike accident
Feb 8-9, 2020: A 32-year-old soldier, Jakrapanth Thomma, went on a killing spree after feeling upset that he was denied a pre-agreed commission over a land purchase that involved a senior officer and his relative.
Using personal weapons bought under an army welfare scheme, Jakrapanth killed both of them.
He later broke into the armoury of a military camp in the north-eastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in Isan and made off with automatic weapons and 700 rounds of ammunition that he used for a shooting spree at the Terminal 21 shopping mall.
Jakrapanth posted updates of the carnage on Facebook before he was shot dead after an overnight siege. His rampage left 29 people dead and 58 injured.
Jan 1, 2019: A Thai man who felt slighted by his in-laws shot dead six family members, including his two young children, aged nine and six, at a New Year’s Eve party in the southern province of Chumphon.
Just 10 minutes after midnight, a heavily drunk Sucheep Sornsung joined his wife’s family to ring in the New Year before pulling out his pistol and shooting his victims either in the head or the torso, before turning the gun on himself. REUTERS, AFP