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‘I saw my grandson’s name and I fainted’: grief engulfs town after Thailand nursery attack

A woman offers a white rose on the steps of the nursery, where a former police officer killed at least 37 people.
Grief-stricken families gathered outside a Thai nursery where an ex-policeman killed 37 people. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

On Friday morning, in the baking sun, grieving parents filed in a line to leave flowers outside the Uthai Sawan nursery school in northern Thailand. Women dressed in black and with heads bowed each placed a white rose on the entrance steps.

A mother, standing at the side, clutched her son’s red blanket and his milk bottle, still half-full.

A day before, the building was the centre of one of Thailand’s most deadly mass killings. Thirty-seven people, most of them young children, were killed in the brutal attack that began at the nursery.

Uthai Sawan, a rural town about 300 miles (480km) north-east of Bangkok, is, like much of Thailand, in a state of shock.

At a hall next to the nursery building, relatives stunned by the events sat in rows, waiting to give their details to officials. Some wept, others leaned on one another’s shoulders for comfort.

Women hold white roses to place on the steps of the nursery, where a former police officer killed at least 37 people
Mourners have gathered to place white roses on the steps of the childcare centre. Photograph: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Pimpa Thana sat in the middle of the hall with her husband. Her two twin boys, Ongsa and Phupa, were killed in the attack. They were three years old. “They liked to dance, they liked to listen to fairytales, they liked to play with each other,” she said.

Her family felt numb, she said.

As Thailand struggles to come to terms with the attack, there is a sense of anger as well as disbelief.

Nuankanjana Sola, 49, lost her four-year-old grandson in the killing. When she heard there had been an incident on Thursday, she went to the centre immediately. “I rushed to check the name list, and I saw my grandson’s name and I fainted.”

He was such a lovely kid, she said, chatty and playful, and always pestering her to buy new toys.

“I’m furious that the gunman did this to the children who had no power to protect themselves. It’s such a cruel incident,” she says. His mother, she said, could not sleep or eat.

Nearby, medical workers set up tables to offer mental health support, while monks presented families with donations and robes. The prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, and other government officials also visited the nursery to leave flowers and meet families. Local people brought donations of water and food.

Napaporn Horngan, 44, who lives in the town, said she came to support those who had lost loved ones. “Even if I stayed home I would still cry,” she said.

Her grandson, seven, who sat beside her, went to the same nursery, she said. Most local children go there. “I don’t know what to say. I am speechless.”

The government should crack down on the sale of methamphetamine – many people are addicted, she said.

Others echoed her view. Jeerand Pannaorath, 53, said his granddaughter, who is three years old, usually attends the nursery but stayed home on Thursday because she was sick.

“I am a farmer, I grow rice and sugarcane so I don’t have time to take care of her, so I drop her at the centre from 8am to 2pm, Monday to Friday,” he said.

The centre usually looks after 70 to 80 children, according to reports, but there were fewer at the time of the attack because the term had ended for older children and heavy rain prevented some from travelling.

On Thursday, Jeerand heard two loud bangs but assumed they were firecrackers. “Who would have imagined that it was actually gunshots? This is in the government compound,” he said, referring to the nursery, which is state run.

When he heard there was an incident, he went to see what had happened. Outside the nursery, he saw the body of a dead child, with wounds on his head. “I could not stay longer. It was so sad. I felt tight in my chest. I went home.”

The availability of drugs and the lack of gun control are to blame, he said. “Drugs are so cheap around here. I saw people trading drugs in front of my house.”

Rabieb, a local woman, also heard the loud bang on Thursday, but, like others, assumed it was a firecracker. “I have never experienced anything like this. We lost one teacher who lives in our village. The feeling in the village in the morning, it’s just sad.”

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