One by one, grieving parents came to lay single white roses on the steps of the Thai kindergarten where nearly two dozen of their children were murdered.
Some bowed their heads in prayer, others hugged in comfort as they placed the blossoms on the steps of the low, yellow-walled building, honoring 22 young lives that have ended.
A mother cried inconsolably, hugging her dead son’s favorite red and yellow blanket and his half-full milk bottle.
Outside the kindergarten, at a local government compound on the outskirts of a village deep in the green farmland of northeast Thailand, dozens of traumatized relatives gathered.
Attacker Panya Khamrab, a fired police officer, used guns and knives to kill at least 37 people, including his own wife and child, in one of the worst mass killings in Thailand before taking his own life.
Naliwan Duangkot, 21, who lost her two-year-old nephew Kamram in kindergarten, comforted the boy’s mother, her 19-year-old sister-in-law Panita Prawanna.
“Before he died, he wanted to eat pizza. We were very sad that we didn’t buy pizza for him beforehand,” Naliwan told AFP.
“He was very sweet, very kind, he always shared things with kids, with everyone,” she said.
“Last night it was very difficult for him and he asked if he could sleep with his parents and little sister,” she said.
“We don’t accept that this will be his last night with his parents and little sister.”
The family learned of Thursday’s shooting from neighbors.
Panita and her husband rushed to the scene of the crime by motorbike to look for Kamram, only to learn the worst.
Panita cradled her 11-month-old daughter Kanta and fought back tears as she said, “It’s incomprehensible.”
– community shocked –
At the hospital in Nong Bua Lam Phu, the nearest town, the families of the injured took turns waiting in the intensive care unit to visit loved ones, bringing food, diapers and other supplies.
As the day progressed and the heat rose under the scorching tropical sun, more and more people came to the kindergarten – the whole small rural community united in grief.
Where two days ago children were playing happily, adults now sat in shock, their incredulous silence broken by occasional soft tears.
Buarai Tanontong, 51, who lost two three-year-old grandsons, was among those stunned by the events.
“I was very shocked and scared. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t think it would be my two grandchildren,” she said as she held her distraught daughter by the shoulder outside the nursery.
Kamjad Pra-intr said the shooter is a well-known figure in the area.
“Everyone knows who the shooter is. He used to be a police officer. He was a nice guy, but later we all know he was into meth,” she said.
“It’s a small community so we know each other and we’re like family. I know three or four children who died there.”