A former policeman burst into a nursery in Thailand on Thursday, killing dozens of children and teachers in the deadliest rampage in the nation’s history.
The attacker, who authorities said had been sacked from the force earlier this year because of a drug offence, then killed his own wife and child at home before finally turning the weapon on himself.
Staff at the childcare centre in the town of Utthai Sawan, in Nong Bua Lamphu province, locked the door when they saw the man approaching with a gun, but he shot his way in.
Initial reports claimed that it was a mass shooting, carried out by a former police officer, named as 34-year-old Panya Kamrap. Later, investigators said that the suspect “mainly used a knife” to kill his young victims.
The tragedy took place at about 12.30pm local time. A witness said staff at the nursery locked the door when they saw the assailant approaching with a gun, but he forced his way into the nursery by shooting his way in.
“The teacher who died, she had a child in her arms,” an unnamed witness told Thailand’s Kom Chad Luek television at the scene.
“I didn’t think he would kill children, but he shot at the door and shot right through it.”
A video taken by emergency services arriving at the scene of the single-story centre showed rescuers rushing into the building past a shattered glass front door, with blood visible on the ground.
In footage posted online after the attack, frantic family members could be heard weeping outside the building, and one image showed the floor of a room smeared with blood where sleeping mats were scattered.
Videos and photos posted on social media showed weeping parents huddled together as they anxiously waited for news.
District official Jidapa Boonsom said that at the first sound of gunshots, “people thought it was fireworks”.
Prior to carrying out his attack, Kamrap attended a court hearing on a drugs charge, Paisan Luesomboon, a police spokesperson, told ThaiPBS television,
He added that Kamrap was fired from the force earlier this year because of drug-related offences.
In a Facebook posting, Thai police chief Gen Dumrongsak Kittiprapas said the assailant’s case involved methamphetamine possession.
Police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told reporters that the suspect was a sergeant on the force before he was fired, and that he used a 9mm pistol that he had bought legally.
“We are still investigating all of this and have to learn from it,” he said. “Today is the first day and we don’t have all the details.”
After the court appearance, Kamrap went to the nursery where witnesses claimed he appeared agitated after discovering his child was not there.
Police said he was armed with a shotgun, a pistol and a knife, and fled the scene in a vehicle, shooting from his car, and driving into several people, Maj Gen Paisal Luesomboon told AP.
He then drove home. Earlier, police said he was last seen driving a white-four-door Toyota pick-up truck with Bangkok registration plates.
In a statement following the incident, Thailand’s prime minister Prayut Chan-ocha described the incident as shocking and urged all parties to assist in treating the wounded.
“The prime minister has expressed his condolences on the shooting incident,” a government spokesperson said. “This shouldn’t happen. I feel deep sadness toward the victims and their relatives.”
The prime minister has also ordered Lt Gen Yanyong Wech-Osoth, commander in chief of the police, to fly to Nong Bua Lamphu to speed up the investigation.
Firearms-related deaths in Thailand are much lower than in countries such as the United States and Brazil, but higher than in countries like Japan and Singapore that have strict gun control laws. Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at the Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.