Hundreds of mourners have gathered in temples in rural northeastern Thailand for the start of funeral rituals after a former policeman killed over 30 mostly child victims in an attack on a childcare centre.

Thailand's Prime Minister has ordered a swift probe into the massacre and police said they will question 180 witnesses.
Thailand's Prime Minister has ordered a swift probe into the massacre and police said they will question 180 witnesses. (AFP)

Heartbroken families and well-wishers have begun three days of funeral rituals in rural northeastern Thailand for the victims of one of the country's worst ever mass killings.

Hundreds gathered in temples on Saturday, offering candles, toys and prayers to mark the lives of more than 30 mostly child victims of a gun and knife rampage that took place at a childcare centre in Nong Bua Lam Phu province.

At the Si Uthai temple in the village of Uthai Sawan, relatives and family of the dead joined a devastated community in paying respects to those slain by 34-year old former Bangkok policeman Panya Khamrap, who had been suspended from duty after admitting to using methamphetamines.

Mourners lit candles before coffins topped with floral wreaths and framed photographs of smiling children, including toddler Pattarawat Jamnongnid, dressed in a pink sports shirt, who was one of two child victims nicknamed "Captain", after a famous actor.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn met survivors and relatives at a hospital in Nong Bua Lam Phu province late on Friday and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha joined mourners, laying flowers and handing out compensation cheques to grieving families.

In front of the daycare centre, people have left toy flowers and toy trucks, in an offering to the spirits of those killed.

READ MORE: Thailand mourns children, others killed in 'senseless' nursery shooting

'Brutal loss'

Armed with a shotgun, pistol and knife, Panya attacked the childcare centre at about 0530 GMT (12:30 pm local time) on Thursday.

At least 24 of the victims were children, most of them aged 2 to 5, and at least 12 were adults. The children were slashed to death, while adults were shot, police said in the aftermath of one of the world's worst recent child death tolls in a massacre by a single killer.

Duenphen Srinamburi, the grandmother of one of the victims, described the horror of the attack. "The children were sleeping. He didn't use a gun, only a knife," she said.

After the attack on the childcare centre, the 34-year-old went home to murder his wife and son before taking his own life, police said, ending the rampage at about 3 pm local time.

The dead include pregnant teacher Supaporn Pramongmuk, whose husband posted a poignant tribute on Facebook.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha was concerned about trauma in the community after the tragedy, his spokesperson Anucha Burapachaisri said on Saturday.

"The prime minister asked everyone to support each other and get through this brutal loss together," Anucha said.

Prayut has ordered a swift probe into the massacre and police said they will question 180 witnesses.

READ MORE: Over 20 children among dozens killed in Thailand day-care centre shooting

Source: TRTWorld and agencies