WARNING: Distressing content
Devastated families gathered Tuesday for the cremation of their loved ones killed in a Thai childcare massacre that claimed 36 lives including 24 children.
A former police officer armed with a gun and knife went on a rampage through the childcare centre last Thursday before going on to kill his wife and child and taking his own life.
Thailand has been left stunned by the tragedy in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lam Phu, one of the worst mass killings in the country’s history.
As night fell Tuesday at Wat Rat Samakee temple in the Na Klang district where the attack took place, the exhausted and grieving community said a final goodbye as 19 funeral pyres were set ablaze with monks chanting.
Police officers had carried the coffins outside in the dusky light, laying them on top of specially built brick pyres decorated with white and black fabric.
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Sobbing families escorted the smallest of the coffins, placing portraits, toys and flowers beside them before the items were removed as the pyres were lit and the crowd quietened.
“An incident like this shouldn’t have happened,” said local Thanakorn Nueangmatcha, 39, ahead of the funeral.
“They were only children.”
Other victims of the attack will be cremated at different temples in the area.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha visited the temple complex on Tuesday, taking part in a small ceremony while monks chanted, before travelling back to the Thai capital.
It followed a visit on Friday by King Maha Vajiralongkorn who met families of the victims in a hospital.
The funerals, sponsored by the royal household, end three days of rites that began Saturday.
The mass ceremony is highly unusual as bodies are normally cremated alone — but the area’s small local temples have been overwhelmed by the number of victims.
Temporary furnaces have also been set up at other nearby temples, local media reported.
The close-knit rural community had already come together on Monday as volunteers, soldiers and officials mixed cement and spread gravel to prepare a field inside the temple complex for the cremations.
They were working to build the pyres in the style traditionally seen in Thailand’s northeast, said Maemon Meeyuan, grandmother of one of the victims.
“We’re doing it the old way,” she told AFP.
Prayut has ordered an investigation into the massacre, with police saying they intend to interview about 180 witnesses.
The attacker, 34-year-old sacked police sergeant Panya Khamrab, was dismissed from his post earlier this year on a drugs charge, with locals saying they suspected he was a methamphetamine addict.
However, preliminary tests found he did not have drugs in his system at the time of the killings.
At the temple ahead of the funerals, 75-year-old Komma Charoenchai said he was “still shocked” by the tragedy but added that people must “let authorities handle the matter”.