BANGKOK: A former policeman killed 38 people including 22 children in a gun rampage at a daycare centre in Thailand on Thursday, later shooting dead his wife and child at their home before turning his weapon on himself, police officials said.
Police identified the attacker as a former member of the force who was dismissed from his post last year over drug allegations.
The man had been facing trial on a drugs charge and had been in court in the hours before the shooting, a police spokesperson told broadcaster ThaiPBS.
He had come to collect his child from the daycare centre but opened fire when he did not find the child there, the spokesperson said.
District police official Chakkraphat Wichitvaidya cited witnesses as saying the gunman was also seen wielding a knife in the attack in Uthai Sawan, a town 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu.
Paisal Luesomboon, a police spokesperson, also told ThaiPBS that witnesses reported seeing the attacker use a knife and a gun. “He started shooting, slashing, killing children at the Utai Sawan daycare centre,” Paisal said.
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, told Reuters.
“The shooter came in around lunch time and shot four or five officials at the childcare centre first,” said Jidapa.
At first people thought the shots were fireworks, she said.
“It’s really shocking. We were very scared and running 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 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 killed with a knife.
Videos posted on social media showed sheets covering what appeared to be the bodies of children lying in pools of blood.
Reuters could not immediately authenticate the footage.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-Ocha, in a statement on Facebook, called the 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 in the statement.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan will travel to Uthai Sawan to visit the scene on Thursday, his office said.
By afternoon, officials stood guarding the front entrance to the daycare centre, a pink, one-storey building surrounded by a lawn and small palm trees.
In a gazebo nearby, anxious-looking people gathered, waiting mostly in silence for news. One woman could be heard weeping.
“He (attacker) was already stressed and when he couldn’t find his child he was more stressed and started shooting,” police spokesperson Paisal told broadcaster ThaiPBS, adding that he had then driven home and killed his wife and child there before taking his own life.
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 neighbouring countries, are common. He had, however, legally purchased the gun he used in the attack, police said.
However, mass shootings are rare. 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.