UTHAI SAWAN, THAILAND (AP) – Grief-stricken families prayed yesterday morning at a Buddhist temple filled with children’s keepsakes, flowers and photos of the smiling toddlers who were slain as they napped on blankets at a daycare centre in northeastern Thailand.
Coffins containing the 36 killed, 24 of them children and most of them preschoolers, were released on Friday and placed inside Wat Rat Samakee and two other temples in the town nestled among rice paddies in one of Thailand’s poorest regions.
Several mourners stayed at Wat Rat Samakee overnight in the tradition of keeping company for those who died young.
“All the relatives are here to make merit on behalf of those who died,” said Pensiri Thana, an aunt of one of the victims. She was among those staying the night at the temple. “It is a tradition that we keep company with our young ones. It is our belief that we should be with them so they are not lonely.”
The massacre left no one untouched in the small town, but community officials found helping others was helping assuage their own grief, at least momentarily.
“At first, all of us felt so terrible and couldn’t accept this. All the officials feel sad with the people here. But we have to look after everyone, all these 30 victims. We are running around and taking care of the people, giving them moral support,” local district official Somneuk Thongthalai said.
A mourning ceremony will continue for three days before the royal-sponsored funerals, which will culminate in the cremation of the bodies according to Buddhist tradition. No clear motive may ever be known for Thailand’s deadliest mass killing after the perpetrator left the daycare centre on Thursday and killed his wife and son at home before taking his own life.
Late on Friday, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida visited hospitals where seven people wounded in the attack are being treated. The monarch met with family members of the victims in what he said was a bid to boost morale.
“It is a tragedy that this evil thing has happened,” the king told reporters in a rare public appearance. “But right now, we have to think of what we can do to improve things to the best of our ability.”
Outside the Young Children’s Development Centre in Uthai Sawan, bouquets of white roses and carnations lined an outside wall, along with five tiny juice boxes, bags of corn chips and a stuffed animal.
At Wat Rat Samakee, mourners and those trying to lend them support crowded the grounds.