11 July 2024

It’s been more than a month since a sacked police officer went on a killing spree in the northeastern province of Nong Bua Lamphu, yet the families of the victims are still struggling with their grief.

“They cry. They still miss their loved ones,” said Chittree Pongsrichai, chief of Nong Bua Lamphu Home for Children and Families.

One man moved home to a farm so his surroundings would not remind him of his dead child.

In the same neighborhood, a 74-year-old woman bursts into tears every time somebody asks about her family’s empty buffalo pen. Her 53-year-old son, Waranchai Prapaspong, used to raise five buffaloes, but after he was shot dead in the October 6 massacre, the family had no choice but to sell the cattle.


Psychological aid

After 37 people – mainly young children – were shot or knifed to death in Nong Bua Lamphu’s Uthai Sawan subdistrict by the ex-cop, government agencies and civil networks came forward to offer help to the bereaved.

“We provided psychological first-aid in the first two weeks,” said Dr Dutsadee Juengsiragulwit, director of the Mental Health Department’s Bureau of Mental Health Service Administration.

“Then we focused on rehabilitation.”

Her bureau has helped survivors, victims, victims’ families, witnesses and residents who were traumatized by the shocking mass murder with no apparent motive.

“We have arranged case-management for victims’ families. We have also provided rehabilitation for others through community-based activities,” she explained.


Close care

The department has assigned one case manager to each of the 40 families that required constant emotional and mental support. These managers work alongside other officials to provide care and assistance to people battling trauma and depression.

Sakorn Khamsaen, a social worker from neighboring Loei province, has been assigned to take care of the grandparents and mother of murdered twin toddlers Ongsa and Phupha.

“I travelled from Loei to Nong Bua Lamphu straight after the killings to see the grandparents, but they would barely speak to me,” Sakorn said. “They needed medication to deal with stress and insomnia.”

Ongsa and Phupha, who would have turned four years old on November 6, had lived with their grandparents since their parents split up. Their mother worked and lived in Ayutthaya.

“I visit the grandparents once or twice a week since the incident,” Sakorn said. “I also video-call the mother every day.”

After about 20 days of coaxing, the family eventually began opening up to Sakorn. They began talking more about not just their daily lives but also the deceased twins – paving the way for Sakorn to help them deal with their grief.

She said the grandparents are in their 50s and looking after six other grandchildren, but they still find it difficult to face the fact that Ongsa and Phupha are gone.

“So, I thought about diverting them with new activities. I encouraged one of the grandchildren to take an online dessert-making class, provided her with the necessary equipment and encouraged the grandma to join too. This way, she can spend her spare time doing something else instead of dwelling on her loss,” Sakorn said.

The twins’ family now sees Sakorn as a family member, given that she has been with them through their most difficult time and is still standing by them now.

“To grandma, I’m like a daughter. To the twins’ mother, I’m like an older sister,” Sakorn said.

She has vowed to maintain the friendship even after the case is handed over to officials in Nong Bua Lamphu.


Financial help

Chittree said that apart from emotional support, some of the bereaved families also need help with day-to-day practicalities. For instance, some need their homes repaired, upgraded or adjusted to accommodate elderly or disabled family members.

“As for those left struggling with debt, we are trying to help them by negotiating new payment schemes or restructuring,” she said.

She said of the 40 families receiving help, 34 who are in financial distress will receive advice from the Public Pawnshop Office.


Survivor’s guilt

Nanticha Pumchum, an assistant teacher at the childcare center where 24 young children were murdered in the attack, has been trying hard to process her memories of the terrifying day.

“I never thought he would massacre sleeping toddlers. I just climbed over the fence and fled,” she said, adding that she keeps seeing the faces of the children under her care that day.

“It’s been really tough for me,” she said. “I think I’ve only partially dealt with the trauma and grief.”


New uniforms, new logo

Teachers and staff of the childcare center are still not ready to return to work, said Danaichok Boonsom, an official with the Uthai Sawan Subdistrict Administrative Organization.

“So, I have postponed the reopening of the center to December 1,” he said.

When it does reopen, the childcare center will have a new name, new uniforms and a new logo. It will also be set up in a new location, and with none of the toys, furniture or equipment from the old premises.

“We expect about 68 children to be enrolled,” he said.

Dutsadee said shifting location may help ease the grief of teachers who survived the tragedy. As for the children, she said those attending the center will likely be new students, who had not witnessed the shocking incident though may have heard about it.


Return to normality

Dr Sakarin Kaewhao, director of the Northeastern Institute of Child and Adolescent Mental Health, said helping affected families and survivors return to normality is a long-term commitment and requires cooperation from all sides.

As well as offering them mental support at the right time, the bereaved and traumatized must be engaged and distracted to keep their minds off the tragedy.

“Our aim is to empower affected communities using the ‘Safe, Calm, Hope, Care, Safe’ concept,” Dutsadee said. “We need to make people understand that their community or their lives have not collapsed because of this incident.”

The authorities held a “Free Play” event from October 17 to 19. The event was to encourage children to get over their fears and come out to play. Several foundations also stepped in to help organize activities.

“More than 80 children joined ‘Free Play’ and they looked happy,” the event coordinator Prasopsook Boranmoon said. “Some were accompanied at the event by their parents.”

Dr Amporn Benjaponpitak, director-general of the Mental Health Department, said people badly affected by the Nong Bua Lamphu massacre have been given continuous mental and emotional support.

“So far, we have attended to more than 200people. About 40% are now at low or even zero risk of developing long-term mental health problems,” she said.

On October 6, former police officer Panya Khamrab killed 36 and wounded 10 others before killing himself. The event was the deadliest mass murder by a single person recorded in modern Thai history.

By Thai PBS World