11 July 2024

Thailand suffered a day of unmatched carnage and cruelty in 2022, when a crazed individual entered a nursery on October 6.

The bloodbath that ensued was even worse than the shooting spree two years earlier in Nakhon Ratchasima that claimed 31 lives. Thirty-six people – mostly sleeping toddlers but also a heavily pregnant woman – were shot or knifed to death by a disgruntled ex-police officer in the small province of Nong Bua Lam Phu.

The slaughter ended only when former policeman Panya Khamrab, who had been sacked over drug charges, shot himself dead after killing his wife and stepson.

Calm before the carnage

On the morning of October 6, Panya reportedly quarreled with his wife and ended up going with his mother to his court hearing. He was charged with having one methamphetamine pill in his possession.

He appeared calm in court, showing no signs of stress. Nobody at the court building could have imagined the horrors he would unleash that afternoon.

After returning home to pick up a pistol, a shotgun and a knife, Panya drove to the nursery in the Uthai Sawan Sub-district Administrative Organization building where his stepson had attended until recently. He first shot dead a father and his son in the building before making his way to the nursery.

It was the lunch break, and he was able to walk in without being challenged because the staff remembered him as a parent. On entering the nursery he killed several staff members including a teacher who was eight months pregnant.

Panya then walked into a room where the toddlers were napping and began attacking them with a knife. Most of the young children died in the assault.

The 34-year-old then left in his pick-up truck and shot dead seven passers-by as he drove through Nong Kung Si district. He also rammed his truck into some people on the road, killing one and injuring two others.

When the sacked cop arrived home, he torched his pick-up truck before entering the house and turning the gun on his wife, stepson and finally himself.

How safe is Thai society for children?

What sparked the shooting?

Several months have passed since the mass killing, but nobody has been able to work out exactly what motivated Panya to commit this unmatched atrocity.

Many of his friends and acquaintances described him as a quiet and pleasant character. However, a few of his ex-police colleagues said he became aggressive when drunk.

The autopsy showed Panya was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol when he committed the murders. Investigators have instead pointed to stress from financial and family problems as a possible explanation.

After being dismissed from the police force, he had reportedly struggled to make ends meet and often fought with his wife.

Panya appears to fit the category of “active shooter”, which describes perpetrators of mass murders marked by speed, scale and randomness that often end in suicide. Most active shooters choose locations where there are few or no obstacles to their attack.

What lessons have been learned?

The government responded to the Nong Bua Lamphu massacre by vowing to tighten laws on weapon ownership.

Though Panya’s weapons and ammunition had been legally acquired, authorities believe mass shootings can be prevented if rules are tightened further. Under the planned new rules, firearms licenses can be revoked if owners are found to be of unsound mind, are drug abusers or develop dangerous habits.

The government also promised a crackdown on drug trafficking and easier access to rehabilitation programs for drug addicts.

Experts, meanwhile, have offered guidelines on how to respond if threatened by an active shooter. The best response, they say, is to run to safety. If fleeing is not possible, then hiding is the next best option. As a last resort, if an encounter with the active shooter is inevitable, people should put up a fight with whatever makeshift weapons they can find, like bathroom cleaner, chairs or even pens.

Experts also advised people to team up when tackling an active shooter in order to quickly subdue that attacker.

By Thai PBS World

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