Thailand massacre: 34, including 22 children, killed by ex-police officer

The massacre in Thailand is one of the world's worst child death tolls by a single killer in recent history.

 Police officers stand guard before the start of the funeral procession for Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the Royal Cremation Ceremony in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 26, 2017 (photo credit: ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA / REUTERS)
Police officers stand guard before the start of the funeral procession for Thailand's late King Bhumibol Adulyadej before the Royal Cremation Ceremony in front of the Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, October 26, 2017
(photo credit: ATHIT PERAWONGMETHA / REUTERS)

A former policeman killed 37 people, including 22 children, during a knife and gun rampage at a daycare center in Thailand on Thursday, later shooting dead his wife and child at their home before turning his weapon on himself, police said.

In one of the world's worst child death tolls in a massacre by a single killer in recent history, most of the children who died in Uthai Sawan, a town 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok, were stabbed to death, police said.

The age range of children at the daycare center was from two to five years, a local official told Reuters.

Killer identified as Thai ex-cop

They identified the attacker as a former member of the force who was dismissed from his post last year over drug allegations and was facing trial on a drugs charge.

The man had been in court earlier in the day and had then gone to the daycare center to collect his child, police spokesperson Paisal Luesomboon told broadcaster ThaiPBS.

 People gather outside of a daycare center's scene of a mass shooting in the town of Uthai Sawan, 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu, Thailand October 6, 2022 (credit: SAKDIPAT BOONSOM/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS) People gather outside of a daycare center's scene of a mass shooting in the town of Uthai Sawan, 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu, Thailand October 6, 2022 (credit: SAKDIPAT BOONSOM/HANDOUT VIA REUTERS)

When he did not find his child there, he began the killing spree, Paisal said. "He started shooting, slashing, killing children at the Utai Sawan daycare center," Paisal said.

Videos posted on social media showed sheets covering what appeared to be the bodies of children lying in pools of blood in the garden of the daycare center.

Reuters could not immediately authenticate the footage.

About 30 children were at the facility when the attacker arrived, fewer than usual, as heavy rain had kept many people away, district official Jidapa Boonsom, who was working in a nearby office at the time.

"The shooter came in around lunchtime and shot four or five officials at the childcare center first," Jidapa told Reuters.

At first, people thought the shots were fireworks, she said: "It's really shocking. We were very scared and ran to hide once we knew it was shooting. So many children got killed, I've never seen anything like it."

The attacker forced his way into a locked room where the children were sleeping, Jidapa said. She said she thought he killed children there with a knife, adding that a teacher who was eight months pregnant was also stabbed to death.

One of the worst massacres in recent times

The massacre is among the worst involving children killed by one person. In Norway, Anders Brevik killed 69 people, mostly teenagers, at a summer camp in 2011, while the child death toll in other cases includes 16 at Dunblane in Scotland in 1996 and 19 at a school in Uvalde, Texas, this year.

The Beslan school hostage crisis in Russia in 2004 saw 186 children killed by a group of hostage-takers.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, in a statement on Facebook, called Thursday's shooting a "shocking incident."

"I have ordered the police chief to travel to the scene immediately to take necessary actions and all involved parties to provide immediate relief to all affected people," he said.

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan traveled Thursday to Uthai Sawan to meet victims' families on Thursday, his office said, while the prime minister was expected to visit on Friday.

The government said it would provide financial aid to the victims' families to help cover funeral expenses and medical treatment.

Gun laws in Thailand

Gun laws are strict in Thailand, where possession of an illegal firearm carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years. But ownership is high compared with some other countries in Southeast Asia. Illegal weapons, many brought in from strife-torn neighboring countries, are common.

Police said, however, that the gun used in the shooting had been obtained legally.

Mass shootings in Thailand remain rare, although in 2020, a soldier angry over a property deal gone sour killed at least 29 people and wounded 57 in a rampage that spanned four locations.