Thai king goes to hospital after nativity scene massacre

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn visited a hospital on Friday where he was treating those injured in a rampage with guns and knives by a sacked police officer that left 36 dead, ending a day of grief and mourning by relatives.

The king is expected to meet survivors of Thursday’s attack, one of the worst massacres in Thai history, in a rare public interaction for the monarch, who is officially considered a semi-divine figurehead.

Coffins bearing the bodies of the victims – including 24 children – had previously been carried to temples to be handed over to relatives, many of whom had spent the day crying at the manger where their children had been killed.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha laid flowers at the nursery in the rural northeastern province of Nong Bua Lam Phu and handed out compensation checks to bereaved families.

At one temple, 10 white and gold coffins, some so small they looked like toy boxes, were loaded into fridges the evening before the usual three days of mourning before cremation.

A young father, his face covered in tears, walked away from other mourners after seeing his son’s coffin loaded.

Earlier in the small, low nursery, a row of heartbroken parents placed white roses on the steps of the building as the scorching sun went down.

Among the dead is pregnant teacher Supaporn Pramongmuk, whose husband posted a poignant tribute on Facebook.

“I would like to thank you for all the support you have given me and my family. My wife has fulfilled all her duties as a teacher,” Seksan Srirach wrote.

“Please be a teacher in heaven, and my child, please take care of your mother in heaven.”

– The knife “the main weapon” –

Armed with his own legally purchased 9mm pistol and a knife, former police sergeant Panya Khamrab began his killing streak at daycare at around 12:30 p.m. (0530 GMT) on Thursday.

After the attack, Panya, 34, fled the scene in a van to return home and murder his wife and son before killing himself, police said, ending the rampage around 3 p.m.

In total, he killed 24 children – 21 boys and three girls – and 12 adults.

Pitak Kongtaphhai, head of the province’s police investigation unit, said most of the deaths were caused by a combination of stab wounds and gunshot wounds.

Panya joined the police in 2012 and rose to the rank of sergeant but was suspended from the force in January and sacked in June for drug use, National Police Chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat told reporters.

Damrongsak said initial tests found no drugs in Panya’s body after the attack, although several locals said Panya was known in the area as a methamphetamine user.

The Home Office said it would “review and step up our drug prevention measures” in the wake of the attack, including tightening rules on gun ownership.

The police chief said the attacker used his knife as his “main weapon” in the nursery.

He argued with his wife hours before the attack, Damrongsak said, but “nothing out of the ordinary” was noted when he appeared in court that morning for drug possession.

Flags on government buildings flew at half-mast on Friday in a gesture of mourning for one of the deadliest days in Thailand’s recent history.

Nanthicha Punchum, acting head of the nursery, described heartbreaking scenes as the attacker broke into the building in Na Klang rural district.

“There were staff having lunch outside the nursery and the attacker parked his car and shot four of them,” she told AFP.

She said the attacker kicked down the door with his leg and then started stabbing the children.

– PM controls sensor –

Witness Pranom Innurak described how her sister, currently recovering in hospital, was injured.

“He (Panya) was driving a car on his way home and he hit everyone on his way,” she told AFP, adding that her sister’s daughter was among the dead.

“When my sister was hit, she wasn’t that hurt yet. She flew out of her food stall. He then used a knife to attack her.”

Thai leader Prayut ordered a swift investigation into the attack and on Friday police interviewed witnesses and families.

The tragedy came less than three years after a soldier in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima shot dead 29 people and injured dozens more during a 17-hour rampage , before being shot down by commandos.

And less than a month ago, an army officer shot and killed two colleagues at a military training base in the capital Bangkok.

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Dora W. Clawson