Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn visits hospital treating those wounded in nursery shooting
- The king visited the hospital where he is expected to meet survivors of Thursday’s attack
- Ex-policeman Panya Khamrab opened fire on the nursery in Nong Bua Lam Phu province before later killing his wife and child, and taking his own life
Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn on Friday visited a hospital treating those wounded in a gun and knife rampage by a sacked policeman that left 37 people 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 mass killings in Thai history, in a rare public interaction for the monarch, who is officially regarded as a semidivine figurehead.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha had earlier laid flowers at the nursery in rural northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province and handed out compensation cheques to grieving families.
Thailand has begun mourning one of its deadliest mass killings, with flags on government buildings flying at half-mast.
Former police officer Panya Khamrab stormed the children’s nursery armed with a knife and gun before later killing his wife and child, and taking his own life.
Overnight rescuers delivered coffins to a hospital at Udon Thani and autopsies are scheduled for Friday morning.
The 34-year-old gunman was a former police sergeant suspended in January and sacked in June for drug use.
Police said he was due to face a drugs trial on Friday.
Footage after the incident showed distraught parents weeping in a shelter outside the nursery, a yellow single-storey building set in a garden.
National police chief Damrongsak Kittiprapat said the pistol used had been bought legally and was a privately owned weapon, not police property.
Witness Paweena Purichan, 31, said the attacker was well known in the area as a drug addict.
She said she encountered Panya driving erratically as he fled the scene.
“The attacker rammed a motorbike into two people who were injured. I sped off to get away from him,” she said.
“There was blood everywhere.”
Video Paweena posted online showed a woman lying injured in a roadside bush after apparently being knocked off her motorbike by Panya.
Prime Minister Prayuth ordered Damrongsak to “fast track an investigation”.
“This should not happen. This absolutely should not happen,” he told reporters.
“I am extremely sorry for those who were injured and lost [their loved ones].”
Thailand forms part of Southeast Asia’s so-called Golden Triangle which has long been an infamous hotspot for the trafficking and abuse of drugs.
Surging supplies of methamphetamine have sent street prices crashing in Thailand to all-time lows, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.
The mass killing comes less than a month after an army officer shot dead two colleagues at a military training base in the capital Bangkok.
While Thailand has high rates of gun ownership, mass shootings are rare.
But in the past year, there have been at least two other cases of shooting murders by serving soldiers, according to local media.
That mass shooting, linked to a debt dispute between gunman Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma and a senior officer, triggered public anger against the military.
The soldier was able to steal assault rifles from an army depot before embarking on his killing spree, posting live updates on social media as he did so.
Military top brass were at pains to portray the killer as a rogue soldier.
The US embassy in Bangkok expressed condolences to the victims and their families after the latest tragedy, while Amnesty International said “hearts go out” to those affected.
“I am shocked to hear of the horrific events in Thailand this morning. My thoughts are with all those affected and the first responders,” British Prime Minister Liz Truss tweeted.
The United Nations children’s agency added: “Early childhood development centres, schools and all learning spaces must be safe havens for young children to learn, play and grow.”