Mourning families gathered at three Buddhist temples in northeastern Thailand over the weekend to pray and make offerings on behalf of the 36 people people—24 of whom were children—killed last week by a former policeman in the rural province of Nong Bua Lamphu.
After the authorities released coffins containing the 36 dead on Friday, they were taken to Wat Rat Samakee and two other temples in the town of Uthai Sawan, some 500 kilometers northeast of Bangkok. Family members of the victims brought flowers, photos, toys, keepsakes, and favorite foods as offerings at the three-day Buddhist ceremony. Sunday was the second of three days of ritual mourning before the bodies are cremated, in line with Buddhist tradition.
“All the relatives are here to make merit on behalf of those who died,” said Pensiri Thana, an aunt of one of the dead children, and among those holding an overnight vigil at Wat Rat Samakee. “It is a tradition that we keep company with our young ones. It is our belief that we should be with them so they are not lonely.” (AP News)
In what has been described as Thailand’s deadliest mass killing and one of the world’s worst child death tolls by a single killer in recent history, a 34-year-old former policeman killed 36 people on 6 October in a knife and gun attack at the Young Children’s Development Center, a daycare in Uthai Sawan. The assailant subsequently returned to his home, where he shot dead his own child and his wife then turned his weapon on himself.
Most of the preschoolers who lost their lives at the daycare centre died from knife wounds, according to police accounts of the tragedy. A teacher who was eight months pregnant was also reported to be among those stabbed to death. Seven of the 10 people injured in the attack were still being treated in hospital on Friday.
According to media reports, heavy rains on the day of the attack meant that fewer children than usual had been dropped off at the Young Children’s Development Center, where the children were aged from 2–5 years. One of the daycare’s teachers said the center usually accommodated 70–80 children, but the semester for older children had ended and rain had prevented a school bus from bringing some of the younger children.
Only two children at the daycare are reported to have survived the attack, which took place while the children were napping. Media reports said one of the survivors, a three-year-old girl nicknamed Ammy was asleep, out of sight beneath a blanket, in a corner of the room at the time of the massacre. Her grandfather reportedly arrived later to find a teacher holding the girl in her arms and covering the child’s face with a cloth to prevent her from seeing the bodies of her friends.
“I’m in shock,” said Ammy’s mother, Panompai Sithong. “I feel for other families . . . I’m glad that my child survived. It’s a mixed feeling of sadness and gratitude.” (CNA)
Another survivor was a three-year-old boy who was playing close to his mother and grandmother when the attack began. According to local media, his mother died from her wounds, while the boy and his grandmother have been receiving medical treatment.
As offerings of flowers piled up around the pink-roofed daycare center, Buddhist monks led the ceremony for the dead at Wat Rat Samakee.
“As the temple is the centre of the community, my role right now is to keep people united,” the temple’s abbot, Pra Kru Adisai Kitjanuwat, said on Saturday, the first day of the mourning ceremony. “I help them to stay united, I help them with whatever they need.” (The Guardian)
The monk added that he knew all of the local children, who refer to him as Luang Taa, or Grandpa Monk. “It’s [a local] tradition, they bring the kids to the temple,” he said with red eyes. “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.” (The Guardian)
Later on Saturday, a ritual white thread was tied to each coffin linking them to a gold and silver bowl. Relatives and local residents then lined up to pour blessed water as part of a sacred bathing ceremony.
On Monday, temporary clay-brick furnaces were being built for the cremations. Phra Kru Adisal Kijjanuwat said that 19 victims would be cremated in a group ceremony at Wat Rat Samakee on Tuesday. The monk noted that the special open-air, charcoal-fueled pyres would spare the families from having to wait through successive ceremonies for each victim.
“We only have one furnace at the temple and we wouldn’t be able to cremate all victims at the same time, and I do not wish for any family to have to wait for a lengthy cremation process,” said the abbot. “After seeing their grief, I thought it would be better if we can hold the ceremony at the same time and that all relatives can go through this final stage of this painful event together.” (CNA)
Maneerat Tanonethong, the mother of three-year-old victim Chaiyot Kijareon, said the Buddhist rituals were helping her process her grief. “I am trying not think about horrible images and focus on how lovely he was. . . . But I don’t know what I will do with myself once this is all over,” she said. “I am determined that I will try let go of this, that I won’t hold any grudge against the perpetrator and understand that all of these will end in this life.” (AP News)
Thailand is a predominantly Theravada Buddhist country, with 93.5 per cent of the nation’s population of 69 million identifying as Buddhists, according to government census data for 2018. The Southeast Asian kingdom has some 38,000 Buddhist temples and almost 300,000 monks. While communities of female renunciants also exist, the monastic authorities in Thailand have never officially recognized the full ordination of women, and bhikkhunis do not generally enjoy the same level of societal acceptance as their male counterparts.
Nursery massacre families pray to free children’s souls (Bangkok Post)
Children slain as they slept (Bangkok Post)
Thailand massacre: ex-cop kills 24 children in knife and gun rampage (Reuters)
‘Miracle’ toddler survived Thailand nursery massacre asleep under blanket (Reuters)
Families leave offerings for children slain at Thai day care (AP News)
Mourners pray at Thai temple filled by children’s keepsakes (AP News)
Thailand nursery attack: offerings amid heartbreak as funerals of victims begin (The Guardian)
Cremations readied for Thai nursery massacre victims (CNA)
Thais mourn dozens, mainly kids, killed in day care attack (PBS)
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