A former police officer killed 34 people, including 22 children, in a shooting attack at a kindergarten in eastern Thailand on Thursday, and later shot his wife and son dead in their home before committing suicide, police said.
Police identified the attacker as a former corps member who was fired from his post last year over drug allegations. He was facing trial on a narcotics charge and had appeared in court in the hours before the massacre, according to authorities.
The Chakkraphat Wichitvaidya district police official quoted witnesses as saying the assailant was also seen brandishing a knife in the attack in the city of Uthai Sawan, 500 kilometers northeast of Bangkok, in Nong Bua Lamphu province.
About 30 children were at the center when the gunman arrived, fewer than usual as heavy rain kept many people away, district official Jidapa Boonsom, who was working in a nearby office at the time, told Reuters.
“The attacker arrived around lunchtime and shot four or five nursery staff first,” Jidapa said, adding that among them was a teacher who was eight months pregnant.
At first people thought the shots were fireworks, he said.
“It’s really shocking. We were very scared and ran to hide when we knew it was shot. It killed a lot of children, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he added.
The assailant forced his way into a locked room where children were sleeping, Jidapa said. He said that he believed that he had killed the children there 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 images.
Police spokesman Paisan Luesomboon told ThaiPBS that the attacker was at a court hearing for a drug case earlier on Thursday and had gone to the nursery to look for his son, but the boy was not there.
“He was already stressed and when he couldn’t find his son he got more stressed and started shooting,” Paisan said, adding that he then drove home and killed his wife and son there before taking his own life.
Gun laws are strict in Thailand, where owning an illegal firearm carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years, but possession is high compared to other countries in the region.
Illegal weapons, many of them brought from neighboring countries ravaged by conflict, are common.
However, mass shootings are rare. In 2020, a soldier angry over a failed real estate deal killed at least 29 people and injured 57 in a massacre that affected four towns.