When a former police officer in rural Thailand shot and stabbed more than two dozen children as they napped in their preschool in October, the episode became the worst mass shooting by a lone attacker in Thailand’s history.
After the attack — which killed 36 people, 24 of them children — the Thai authorities ordered law enforcement agencies to tighten gun ownership rules in Thailand, which has more guns than anywhere else in Southeast Asia.
But little else has changed. And the families continue to grieve.
Many of the children were cared for by their grandparents as their parents worked in faraway cities. “These kinds of families — we call them ‘skipped-generation families,’” said Patcharin Lapanun, an assistant professor at Thailand’s Khon Kaen University. “In these kinds of households, there are the grandchildren and grandparents living together, but their parents leave home.”
That distance amplified the pain that has rippled across generations where the attack occurred, in Uthai Sawan.
“There was no job here.”
Chatchai Geecharoen said he typically took care of his son, Chaiyot “Yot” Keecharoen, 3. But over the summer, he had left their small town to work in a factory in Bangkok. Uthai Sawan, in the northeast of Thailand, is one of the poorest regions in the country. “There was no job here,” said Mr. Chatchai, 31.
He said Yot was a lively boy who loved eating, dancing and playing with toy cars and dinosaurs. When Yot’s grandfather told Mr. Chatchai that there had been a shooting at the day care, he said he dropped everything and drove 332 miles from Bangkok. “It is hard to come to terms with this,” he said.
“He had just started to speak.”
Thanathep “Chelsea” Kamsorn was 2. Duangporn Kumsorn, his paternal grandmother, said she raised him together with Chelsea’s mother. Chelsea’s father works in Israel and had never seen his son.
Chelsea loved playing doctor with a toy stethoscope and pretending to give injections with toy syringes. If he saw his grandmother lying down, he would check to see if she was sick and try to feed her. “He had just started to speak more and more,” Ms. Duangporn said. “It was adorable when he spoke.”
“Everybody here misses him.”
Vorrapat Norrabutr, 3, was the stepson of Panya Kamrab, the shooter. On the day of the attack, Mr. Panya had gone to the center to look for his stepson, but Vorrapat was not there.
Investigators said Mr. Panya had argued with his wife, Kampan Chantakool, that morning. Vorrapat’s father, Khomsan Norrabutr, said he and Vorrapat’s mother separated when the boy was only a few months old.
Mr. Khomsan, 33, took care of the boy until Ms. Kampan told him that she wanted custody, saying that Mr. Panya’s benefits as a police officer meant Vorrapat could go to school free. “We were worried about my son’s future, so we decided to let him go with them,” Mr. Khomsan said.
On Oct. 7, after his rampage in the day care center, Mr. Panya stormed into their house and shot Vorrapat, his wife and himself.
“We did everything together.”
Phattanan Mumklang, 4, was called “Nong Mo,” or “Little Mo.” She loved soccer but disliked taking showers, something that her paternal grandmother, Saowanee Donchot, nagged her about.
Her parents were separated and lived in towns far away from each other — and away from her. Phattanan did, however, have a close relationship with her grandmother. “We were each other’s shadow. We did everything together,” Ms. Saowanee said.
A future pilot.
Pattarawat Jamnongnit’s mother wanted her son to be a pilot. The boy, 2, lived with his father, a mechanic, and his grandparents while his mother worked at an electronics factory in Khon Kaen, around 90 miles away. He had only entered the day care in July, at the start of a new semester.
Pattarawat was a voracious milk drinker, his grandmother recalled, and could drink five boxes in a row. He was also very polite, never forgetting to show respect to his grandmother by bowing to her with his hands clasped to say thank you, even when he was sleepy.
“‘Are you tired from working, Mom?’”
Though his parents worked in a factory in Bangkok and he was being raised by his grandmother, Aphiwut Manochart, 3, spoke to his mother every day on the phone. “He loved asking me, ‘Are you tired from working, Mom?’” said Rassamee Tunawa, his mother.
“The last time we talked was the day that he passed away.”
“‘There’s no more.’”
Thong-arn Wangkhiri, 50, said her grandchild, Theerayut Wangkhiri, 3, loved being on her farm, spending nights near the rice field in Uthai Sawan. Theerayut often led his friends in dance. Like many of his classmates, he loved the song “Kokowa,” from the Korean television series “Squid Game.”
His parents heard about the attack from Ms. Thong-arn’s cousin, who lived near the day care. “Less than 30 minutes later, his mother called me and said, ‘There’s no more. They are all dead.’”
“All I could do was cry.”
Thanakorn “Ness” Karadee, 4, took naps at school with a blanket that his mother, Rattana Malapim, and her former husband had bought.
On the day of the attack, Ness’s aunt told Ms. Rattana that she had seen a blurry photograph that showed a child who looked like Ness on the floor inside the day care after the massacre. She was not sure. She sent the photograph to Ms. Rattana, who recognized the blanket.
“All I could do was cry,” Ms. Rattana said.
“The house is quiet now.”
Pathomporn Thongkhot, 25, said her son Wasan “Sun” Somjai, 4, had just started talking shortly before his death. “Whatever I said, he would repeat after me,” she said.
The family called him Sun because they wanted sunlight to guide his life. “The house is quiet now because he was the only child,” Ms. Pathomporn said.
Three cousins under one roof.
Although many children at the day care came from small families, others attended the school with their cousins, like Asia, Asean and Titan — all of them 3. Asean’s mother, Prayool Srilumtai, recalled how Asean liked wearing a wig. “He loved long hair,” she said.
She would pick up the three cousins from school. “They always fought when they were at home, but they loved each other when they went to school,” Ms. Prayool said. The children lived in the same house. Now, only one cousin is left, Asia’s sister, Nadia, 2.
“There’s no more love left to give.”
Chadayu “Pai” Manusin’s grandmother, Supranee Maharit, said one of the first things that he did every morning was to hug his puppy, named Panda. But the day the 4-year-old was killed, he asked his grandmother, whom he called “Mom,” for a hug.
“He hugged me and said: “I love you, Mom. I love you so much that there’s no more love left to give,’” Ms. Supranee recalled.
“The end of the rainy season.”
In Thailand, a predominantly Buddhist country, belief in the supernatural is especially prominent in rural areas. Several parents and grandparents in Uthai Sawan spoke of seeing omens the day of the attack.
On the morning of the shooting, Tukta Wongsrila, the mother of Siriprapa “Praifon” Prasertsuk, 3, remembered seeing ravens near her rice field after dropping her daughter off at the day care center. Siriprapa had been given the nickname Praifon by her grandmother. It means “the end of the rainy season.” It was rainy the day she was killed.
“You don’t have to worry.”
Panuchit Pratumchai, 7, was the first child killed on that gruesome day. He and his father, Sunti Pratumchai, 33, were having lunch across from the day care center when they were gunned down.
Panuchit’s mother, Patcharee Pimpakham, 32, said she and her husband had visited several different temples for five years to pray for a child. They believed Panuchit was an angel who came from a specific temple. The couple also had a second child, a daughter.
Ms. Patcharee cremated her husband and son together. She said that during the cremation, her husband’s pyre would not ignite. Elders told her to say out loud: “I am here with our daughter. You don’t have to worry about us, and you should go to heaven with our son.” After she said those words, the fire lit up.