UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand (AP) — About 200 people gathered in the small northeastern town of Uthai Sawan on Friday for a quiet ceremony marking the one-year anniversary of Thailand’s deadliest mass killing.
On Oct. 6, 2022, a fired police sergeant killed 36 people, including two dozen toddlers at a day care center. The shocking gun and knife attack spurred calls for tighter gun controls in Thailand, which has one of the highest rates of gun ownership and gun-related deaths in Asia.
The calls for change faded with time, but were dramatically revived this week when a teenager with a handgun roamed through an upscale mall in the capital, Bangkok, shooting dead two people and wounding five others before being apprehended.
Officials and residents from Uthai Sawan and neighboring communities in Nong Bua Lamphu province, which sits in one of Thailand’s poorest regions, donned colorful traditional clothes Friday at a Buddhist ceremony. They offered food for a dozen monks and prayed together at the local administrative office, which sits close to the now-empty building that used to house the day care center. The center’s operations have since been moved to a school a few kilometers (miles) away.
The low-key ceremony, attended by many relatives of those slain, was labeled only as an event to preserve local traditions, and the religious ceremony was held to “bless good fortune and serve as a pillar of good faith.”
Local officials said they did not want to call it a memorial service in order to spare the feelings of the residents who are still shaken by the tragedy. Many of them shed tears as they chanted the prayers.
After the ceremony, a few attendees went to the abandoned child care building and placed food and beverage offerings at the front — an act that pays respect with the hope to send food and blessings to those who died.
Thongkul Phupadhin, the grandmother of a 4-year-old girl slain in the attack, wept while setting down a offering tray with french fries, popcorn, rice crackers, cupcakes, grilled chicken and sweet drinks. She said it’s still hard for her to come back to see the place.
“I still miss her the same,” she said of her granddaughter, eyes red and filled with tears. “I always go to the temple. I always offer food to monks. Whatever she wanted to eat, what she used to eat, I always offer them for merit-making.”
The 24 preschoolers who lost their lives were attacked while taking their 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 gunshot wounds in their heads could be seen.
The man who carried out the massacre was Panya Kamrap, a 34-year-old police officer fired a year earlier for drug use. His rampage began at the day care center, and ended when he returned home, where he killed his wife and child before taking his own life.
Kingsag Poolgasem, chief of the village where the victims’ families live, earlier told The Associated Press that he felt they were starting to recover from their trauma.
“The mental state of people in the community, even those who are families of the victims, whose who were affected, is starting to return to normal, because we incorporated help from several things, whether it is by care of groups of neighbors (or) the village committee using Buddhism principles to help comfort their minds,” he said.
“I still worry. I don’t want anything bad to happen again,” he said. “We now resort to inspections, checkpoints, patrols; whether around the village or around the sub-district. We have to take care and aid our people until everything is all right with them.”