At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault, Thailand's deadliest shooting rampage carried out by an ex-policeman, were children.

Weeping, grief-stricken families have gathered outside the Thai nursery where the tragedy unfolded.
Weeping, grief-stricken families have gathered outside the Thai nursery where the tragedy unfolded. (AP)

Relatives grieving staggering loss have laid flowers at a daycare centre in rural northeastern Thailand where a fired police officer slaughtered dozens of people, including children as young as two who were napping.

The entire country reeled in the wake of Thursday's grisly attack in a small town nestled among rice paddies in one of the nation's poorest regions.

At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault, Thailand's deadliest shooting rampage, were children.

“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes. They are running through my heart," said Seksan Sriraj, 28, who lost his pregnant wife due to give birth this month in the attack at the Young Children’s Development Centre in Uthai Sawan.

“My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me," he said.

Royal and government representatives in white uniforms laid wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the centre's main door on Friday morning, as a faded Thai flag flew at half staff above. They were followed by weeping family members, who gathered their hands in prayer before placing white flowers on the wooden floor.

Later, villagers lined the roads of the town as a stream of ambulances brought the bodies back to the day care centre so waiting relatives could claim them.

Thailand’s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected later in the day to visit hospitals, where seven of the 10 people who were wounded remain. 

Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha was expected to visit the day care center and the hospitals.

A vigil was planned in a central Bangkok park.

Police identified the attacker as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court on Friday. 

An employee told a Thai TV station that Panya's son had attended the daycare but hadn't been there for about a month.

When asked whether he thought the centre was secure enough, Seksan noted the attacker had been a police officer. "He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”

Witnesses said the attacker shot a man and child in front of the centre before walking toward it. Teachers locked the glass front door, but the gunman shot and kicked his way through it. 

The children, mainly 2- and 3-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap, and photos taken by first responders showed their tiny bodies still lying on blankets. In some images, slashes to the victims’ faces and gunshots to their heads could be seen.

Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.

The attack took place in Nongbua Lamphu province, one of the country’s poorest regions.

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

'Unspeakable violence'

Support and condolences poured in from around the world. 

"All Australians send their love and condolences," Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese tweeted

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the violence “senseless and heartbreaking.”

Pope Francis offered prayers for all those affected by such “unspeakable violence.”

“I’m profoundly saddened by the heinous shooting at a childcare centre in Thailand,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres tweeted.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed deep sadness and extended "heartfelt condolences to the relatives of those who lost their lives as well as to the friendly people and the Government of Thailand."

Thailand's previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.

Nearly 60 others were wounded in that attack. Its death toll surpassed that of the previously worst attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok that killed 20 people. It was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.

Last month, a clerk shot co-workers at Thailand’s Army War College in Bangkok, killing two and wounding another before he was arrested.

READ MORE: Thai soldier kills, injures fellow servicemen at Bangkok military facility

Source: AP