Thailand began a mourning period of three days on Saturday, shaken by the killing of 24 children at a daycare center in the country’s northeast.
The gunman responsible for the mass shooting, identified by authorities as ex-policeman Panya Kamrab, killed 36 people, mostly children, at the facility in the Na Klang area of Nong Bua Lamphu province on Thursday. He also shot and killed his wife and son before taking his own life.
The attack was the worst mass killing by a sole perpetrator in Thailand’s history.
King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida visited hospitals and addressed family members of the victims in a rare public appearance late on Friday.
The king offered condolences as the grieving community knelt on the hospital floor — as is Thai custom in the presence of the monarch, who is seen as semi-divine.
“I am grieving and disheartened that such a tragedy occurred. I share your sorrow, your grief,” he said in footage published online on Saturday.
“There are no words to describe the heartbreak,” he continued.
“Now, we do the things that help us the most, the best we can, so that we have the courage to live on.”
The royal visit came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha had joined mourners on Friday, laying flowers and handing out compensation cheques to the grieving families.
A local Buddhist temple was shown in local media broadcasts on Saturday to be filled with tributes to the children who lost their lives: keepsakes, flowers, and photos of the dead. After the three-day mourning period, the royal-sponsored funerals will take place, which, in accordance with Buddhist tradition, will culminate in the cremation of the bodies.
“My heartbreak can’t be put into words. My son will never come back, no matter what,” Saisamorn, a 34-year-old mother who had lost her only child in the massacre, told local news outlet Matichon.
The husband of Supaporn Pramongmuk, a teacher who was eight months pregnant and among those killed, took to Facebook
to post a tribute for his wife.
“My wife has done her best as a teacher. She is now a teacher in heaven. My child will take care of his mother in heaven,” Seksan Srirach wrote.
Thailand’s national police chief Gen. Damrongsak Kittipraphat said Kamrab had been fired from the police force for possession of methamphetamine, but a hospital report revealed that no drugs were found in his system.
Kamrab was thought to have had an argument with his wife on Thursday morning, a day before he was due in court for a hearing in his drugs case.