A disgraced former police officer in northeastern Thailand killed at least 36 people, most of them children, in a shooting and slashing rampage Thursday that started at a day care center and ended at his own home, where he killed his family and himself, authorities said.
National Police Chief Gen. Dumrongsak Kittiprapas said the attacks began at about 12:30 p.m. local time in Nongbua Lamphu province, about 330 miles northeast of Bangkok. At least 19 boys, three girls and two adults were killed at the day care center in the rural town of Uthai Sawan before the suspected gunman, identified as former police officer Panya Kamrap, drove off shooting randomly at people on the street, police said.
The suspect drove home and killed his wife and son before killing himself, police said. The attack happened in one of the poorest parts of Thailand, according to police spokesman Archayon Kraithong.
Nanthicha Punchum, acting chief of the center's nursery, told AFP she saw the attacker barge into the building in the rural community.
"There were some staff eating lunch outside the nursery and the attacker parked his car and shot four of them dead," she told the outlet. "The shooter smashed down the door with his leg and then came inside and started slashing."
The Thai government announced that flags would fly at half staff Friday.
In Washington, the White House released a statement saying the U.S. was "horrified" by the shooting and offering condolences to families who lost loved ones.
"The images are heartbreaking," the statement said. "We condemn this act of violence and stand ready to assist our long-standing ally Thailand in whatever they need."
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Suspect had been fired from police force, faced drug charges
Deputy national police chief Gen. Torsak Sukwimol told the Bangkok Post that Panya, 34, was apparently under the influence of drugs at the time of the attack. The Post reported that Panya was expelled from the police force in June and that he faced charges related to possession of methamphetamine pills.
Torsak told the Post the mother of the gunman told him her son had gone to court for a hearing on his drug case Thursday morning. After leaving the court, he appeared stressed out, ingested drugs and started to feel paranoid, Torsak quoted the mother as saying.
Panya then went to the day care center, where he appeared to become agitated when he could not find his child. He opened fire on staffers having lunch outside, Torsak said. Panya then went inside, where most of the children were sleeping. Many of them were killed with a knife, Torsak said.
Photos, videos from scene reveal horrors of attack
Photos and videos of the scene posted online showed sleeping mats scattered in a preschool room, its floor smeared with blood, with alphabet pictures and other colorful wall decorations.
Videos carried the sound of wails as frantic family members wept and watched outside the school building. Ambulances stood by as police and medical workers walked in the schoolyard.
Mass murders rare in Thailand
Mass shootings are rare in Thailand. In 2020 a soldier opened fire at a shopping mall and other locations in the southern Thai city of Nakhon Ratchasima, killing 29 people and wounding 58.
Firearm-related deaths in Thailand are much lower than in countries like the United States and Brazil but higher than in countries like Japan and Singapore, which have strict gun control laws. The rate of firearm-related deaths in 2019 was about 4 per 100,000, compared with about 11 per 100,000 in the U.S. and nearly 23 per 100,000 in Brazil.
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Thailand rampage: At least 36 killed in attack at child care center