BANGKOK — A former policeman facing a drug charge burst into a day care center in northeastern Thailand on Thursday, killing dozens of preschoolers and teachers before shooting more people as he fled in the deadliest rampage in the nation’s history.
The assailant, who was fired from the force earlier this year, took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.
A witness said staff at the day care locked the door when they saw the assailant approaching with a gun, but he shot his way in. At least 37 people were killed in the attack in one of the poorest parts of Thailand, according to police spokesman Archayon Kraithong.
“The teacher who died, she had a child in her arms,” the witness, whose name wasn’t given, told Thailand’s Kom Chad Luek television. “I didn’t think he would kill children, but he shot at the door and shot right through it.”
A video taken by a first responder arriving at the scene of the single-story day care in the rural town of Nongbua Lamphu showed rescuers rushing in to the building past the shattered glass front door, with drops of 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. Pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.
Police identified the suspect as 34-year-old former police officer Panya Kamrap. Police Maj. Gen. Paisal Luesomboon told PPTV in an interview that he was fired from the force earlier this year because of the drug charge.
In a Facebook posting, Thai police chief Gen. Dumrongsak Kittiprapas said the man, who had been a sergeant, was due in court on Friday for a hearing in the case involving methamphetamine possession, and speculated that he may have chosen the day care because it was close to his home.
Earlier, Dumrongsak told reporters that the main weapon used was a 9mm pistol that the man had purchased himself. Paisal said he also had a shotgun and a knife.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who plans to travel to the scene on Friday, told reporters that initial reports were that the former officer was having personal problems.
“This shouldn’t happen,” he said. “I feel deep sadness toward the victims and their relatives.”
Police have not given a full breakdown of the death toll, but they have said at least 22 children and two adults were killed at the day care. At least two more children were killed elsewhere. They said 12 people were wounded.
Firearm-related deaths in Thailand are much lower than in countries like the United States and Brazil, but higher than in countries like Japan and Singapore that have strict gun control laws. The rate of firearms related deaths in 2019 was about 4 per 100,000, compared with about 11 per 100,000 in the U.S. and nearly 23 per 100,000 in Brazil.
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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 population 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.
The country’s previous worst mass shooting 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.
Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.
By TASSANEE VEJPONGSA, Associated Press. AP writers David Rising, Chalida Ekvitthayavechnukul, Elaine Kurtenbach and Grant Peck contributed to this story.