Thailand nursery attack: offerings amid heartbreak as funerals of victims begin

Ceremonies under way in Uthai Sawan after king says ‘there are no words that can describe the sorrow’

Toy trucks, baby bottles and flowers have been left beside the coffins of victims of the mass killing at a nursery school in north-eastern Thailand, as funeral ceremonies began.

Inside wat Rat Samakee, a temple in Uthai Sawan where most of the child victims were taken, families sat beside their loved ones’ remains. A mother held on to her son’s red blanket as she stared ahead. Another woman hugged her loved one’s photo tightly.

Some families there on Saturday morning had stayed overnight to ensure candles and incense they had placed next to their loved ones’ remains did not go out. It was a tradition, local people said, to prevent the soul from straying and becoming lost.

Next to each coffin, photographs showed young toddlers smiling and posing; one boy sat with a puppy on his lap, another was pictured drawing in a book.

In one photo, a four-year-old boy posed in a football shirt and shorts. Beside his coffin, a toy truck and digger, a baby milk bottle, fizzy pop and sweets were left as offerings.

Thirty-seven people were killed, mostly young children, when a former police officer opened fire and stabbed people in an attack that began at a preschool centre in Uthai Sawan. After the attacker left the nursery he drove his car towards and shot at bystanders, then returned home, where he shot his wife, child and himself.

Nineteen of the victims’ remains were kept in wat Rat Samakee. All but one were children.

The only adult victim held at the temple was a teacher. She was eight months pregnant, said Pra Kru Adisai Kitjanuwat, abbott at wat Rat Samakee.

Tributes are placed for the victims at Wat Rat Samakee temple following a mass shooting in the town of Uthai Sawan.
Tributes are placed for the victims on Saturday at Wat Rat Samakee temple following a mass shooting in the town of Uthai Sawan. Photograph: Jorge Silva/Reuters

“As the temple is the centre of the community, my role right now is to make people united,” he said. “I help them to stay united, I help them with whatever they need.”

He said he knew all of the local children, who call him Luang Taa, meaning Grandpa Monk. “It’s an Isan tradition, they bring the kids to the temple,” he said with red eyes.

The community had come together, despite the terrible events, he added. “I actually feel, in a way, that I’m proud of the people here. Even though this is such a hard time, they come together, they are united together. I know everybody is in a difficult place but they are united to get through it.”

Next to the temple, local people sat chopping papaya and mixing som tam salad for families and visitors.

“We came here to do whatever we can, we want to support the family,” said Naparat Kaesapan, who lives locally and was helping to prepare food. “Cooking, buying ingredients, welcoming the guests – because I know the families will not be in the state of mind or have the time to do this.”

They didn’t want to bother the families, she said. “We just say we are right here by their side, and keep going.”

Everyone is still in shock. “I try to not look at the news,” Naparat said.

Later on Saturday, a white thread was tied to each coffin, linking them to a gold and silver bowl, into which people poured water. Relatives and local people, young and old, queued to take part in the symbolic bathing.

Offerings, toys and portraits placed for the victims of Thailand’s nursery attack.
Offerings, toys and portraits placed for the victims of Thailand’s nursery attack. Photograph: Lauren DeCicca/Getty Images

Later in the afternoon, royal water was also due to be used in a separate ceremony. All victims have been taken under royal patronage.

On Friday night, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida met victims at a local hospital. In a speech, the king offered condolences to families, saying it was “a time of sorrow” and that he felt deep sadness.

“If you are in difficulties, let me help and take care [of you]. I offer my condolences to you,” he said. “There are no words that can describe the sorrow.”

He offered to support the victims, saying that he shared their sorrow.

Contributor

Rebecca Ratcliffe and Navaon Siradapuvadol in Uthai Sawan

The GuardianTramp

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