6 October marks one year since a former police officer attacked a daycare center in the rural town of Uthai Sawan in northeastern Thailand, murdering 36 people, including 24 toddlers. (AP News) Since then, traumatized families have sought solace in the Dharma counsel and comfort of Buddhist monks who hope to help grieving people gradually heal with time.
On the 6th of October 2022, Panya Kamrap, a former police officer fired for a drug charge involving methamphetamine, drove to The Young Children’s Development Center in Nong Bua Lam Phu province. He carried out his deadly rampage before fleeing to his home, killing his wife and child, before turning the gun on himself and committing suicide. The ex-officer had a history of mental illness, drug addiction since high school, and at the time of his murderous act he was plagued by financial, emotional, and marital problems.
Since the massacre, relatives had already been offering alms to monks four times a month, marking the Thai custom of revering the spirits of their deceased loved ones. (Benar News) But one year on, the horrific memories of that dark day remain vivid for the families and relatives of the victims, especially since last Tuesday, a 14-year-old boy with a handgun shot and killed two people and wounded five others in a Bangkok shopping mall. Thailand traditionally has had a low gun crime rate.
On Friday, about 200 people attended a quiet ceremony to mark the one-year anniversary of the “unfathomable agony” unleashed by the murderer, which local officials intentionally refrained from labelling as a memorial service, reframing it as just an event “to preserve local traditions.” (AP News) The religious ceremony’s purpose, true to Thai conventions, was held to bless good fortune and reinforce faith in the community and in the Dharma. Officials and residents from Uthai Sawan and neighboring communities in Nong Bua Lamphu province attended. As AP News reported, they donned colorful traditional clothes and offered alms (dana) for about a dozen monks, and prayed as one grieving community at the local administration office, which is near to the site of the killings. Some of the mourners then went to the building that was once the daycare center – now abandoned – and paid their respects with offerings of food and drinks, in the hope that the children who were slain would enjoy those treats and beverages in the afterlife. (AP News)
Phra Adisai, the abbot of Wat Rat Samakkhi Temple, told BenarNews earlier in July that he had extended an offer of support to all the people that were grieving. He was the godfather of more than a dozen of the murdered children. He had “spiritually adopted” 15 of them before the massacre because their parents had hoped that having a monk as a pastoral companion and godfather would benefit them and have a positive effect on their community.
“I had known all of those children since they were born. Today, the temple is quiet unlike before when they were joyfully chasing around. Some of them held my robes when I went out for morning alms. I was saddened that day,” Phra Adisai told BenarNews, recalling the massacre last year. “I lost my 15 adopted children.” (BenarNews)
Since the killings, some of the dead children’s parents have visited his temple regularly to receive blessings. “I told the survivors that all of the children have gone to heaven – they are little angels. They did not do a bad deed – they are angels in paradise,” he told BenarNews earlier in the year. Currently, he is more concerned with helping those that the children have left behind through the process of coming to terms with their senseless and brutal deaths. “Their anger, trauma, agony have been cured somewhat.” (BenarNews)
Some of the surviving victims, like the now-paralyzed Kamthorn Thongpod—he currently has to breathe through a respirator—have chosen to forgive the perpetuator thanks to the teachings of Phra Adisai. But others simply cannot forget. In the words of Tawee Lasopha, whose daughter was one of the victims: “These days, when I go out to see neighbors, they tell me to forget. How could I forget? I can’t forget it for the rest of my life. This child … I can’t forget.” (AP News)
Kingsad Poolgasem, a village leader in Uthai Sawan, told AP News that some families seemed to be slowly recovering. “The mental state of people in the community, even those who are families of the victims, whose who were affected, is starting to return to normal, because we incorporated help from several things, whether it is by care of groups of neighbors (or) the village committee using Buddhism principles to help comfort their minds. I still worry. I don’t want anything bad to happen again. We now resort to inspections, checkpoints, patrols; whether around the village or around the sub-district. We have to take care and aid our people until everything is all right with them.” (AP News)
Perhaps the clearest sign of a new beginning – a determination of the community and the town to not let the shadow of Panya Kamrap persist indefinitely – was the planning of a new, yet to be constructed daycare center. For now, the old childcare center’s operations have since been moved to a school a few kilometers away. Yet perhaps it is the physical infrastructure that is the least of the town’s worries. The monks and the traumatized townspeople that require spiritual and emotional nurture have a long road of healing ahead.
The elderly Thongkul Phupadhin says that it is very hard for her to return to the site where she lost her 4-year-old granddaughter. At the former center’s gates, where offerings are still placed, she wept as she offered snacks like chips, crackers, cupcakes, and chicken, as well as sweet drinks the children would have enjoyed. “I still miss her the same,” she said, crying. “I always go to the temple. I always offer food to monks. Whatever she wanted to eat, what she used to eat, I always offer them for merit-making.” (AP News)
Whether it is those in Uthai Sawan whose hearts have been seared by the unbearable experience of losing a child or grandchild so violently and prematurely, or the survivors that must live with physical reminders of last year’s senseless brutality every day, the community must pull through together, their grief and strength fortified by the Dharma of the monks that share in their pain.
A year after Thai day care center massacre, a family copes with their grief (AP News)
Buddhist abbot helps grieving Thai community cope, heal after 2022 daycare massacre (Benar News)
A modest Buddhist ceremony marks the anniversary of a day care center massacre in Thailand (AP News)
A modest Buddhist ceremony marks the anniversary of a day care center massacre in Thailand (ABC News)
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