Toy trucks, baby bottles and flowers were left next to the coffins of massacre victims at a kindergarten in northeast Thailand as funeral ceremonies began.
Inside Wat Rat Samakee, a temple in Uthai Sawan where most of the child victims were taken, families sat next to the remains of their loved ones. A mother clung to her son’s red blanket as she stared ahead. Another woman hugged the picture of her beloved.
Some families present on Saturday morning had stayed overnight to ensure that the candles and incense they had placed next to the remains of their loved ones did not go out. It was a tradition, the locals said, to keep the soul from wandering and being lost.
Beside each coffin, photographs showed young toddlers smiling and posing; one boy was sitting with a puppy in his lap, another was drawing in a book.
In one photo, a four-year-old boy posed in a football shirt and shorts. Next to his coffin, a toy truck and digger, a baby bottle, soft drinks and sweets were left as offerings.
Thirty-seven people were killed, most of them young children, when a former policeman opened fire and stabbed people in an attack that began at a preschool in Uthai Sawan. After leaving the nursery, the assailant walked to his car and shot passers-by, then returned to his home, where he shot his wife, child and himself.
Nineteen of the victims’ remains were kept in Wat Rat Samakee. All but one were children.
The only adult victim held at the temple was a teacher. She was eight months pregnant, said Pra Kru Adisai Kitjanuwat, abbot at wat Rat Samakee.
“As the temple is the center of the community, my role right now is to bring people together,” he said. “I help them stay together, I help them with whatever they need.”
He said he knew all the local children, who call him Luang Taa, which means monk grandfather. “It’s an Isan tradition, they bring the children to the temple,” he said with red eyes.
The community had come together, despite the terrible events, he added. “Actually, I feel, in a way, that I’m proud of the people here. Even though it’s such a difficult time, they come together, they are united together. I know everyone is in a tough spot, but they are united to get through this.
Next to the temple, local people sat chopping papaya and mixing som tam salad for families and visitors.
“We came here to do everything we can, we want to support the family,” said Naparat Kaesapan, who lives there and helped prepare the food. “Cooking, buying ingredients, welcoming guests – because I know families won’t be in the mood or have the time to do that.”
They didn’t want to disturb the families, she said. “We’re just saying we’re here by their side and carrying on.”
Everyone is still in shock. “I try not to watch the news,” Naparat said.
Later Saturday, a white thread was tied to each coffin, connecting them to a gold and silver bowl, into which people poured water. Parents and residents, young and old, lined up to take part in the symbolic swim.
Later in the afternoon, the royal water was also to be used in a separate ceremony. All of the victims were taken under royal patronage.
On Friday evening, King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida met with victims at a local hospital. In a speech, the king offered his condolences to the families, saying it was “a moment of sadness” and that he felt deep sadness.
“If you are in trouble, let me help you and take care of you [of you]. I send my condolences to you,” he said. “There are no words that can describe grief.”
He offered to support the victims, saying he shared their pain.