One by one, grieving parents came to lay single white roses on the steps of the Thai nursery where nearly two dozen of their children were murdered.
Some bowed their heads in prayer, some hugged each other in consolation as they laid the blooms on the steps of the low, yellow-walled building, tributes to 22 young lives cut short.
One mother wept inconsolably, hugging her dead son’s favourite red-and-yellow blanket and his milk bottle, still half-full.
Outside the nursery, in a local government compound on the edge of a village deep in the green farmlands of northeast Thailand, scores of traumatised relatives gathered.
Attacker Panya Khamrab, a sacked policeman, killed at least 37 people on his gun-and-knife rampage, including his own wife and child, in one of Thailand’s worst ever mass killings, before ending his own life.
Naliwan Duangkot, 21, who lost her two-year-old nephew Kamram at the nursery, comforted the boy’s mother, her 19-year-old sister-in-law Panita Prawanna.
“Before he passed away he wished to eat pizza. We were very sad that we didn’t buy pizza for him before,” Naliwan told AFP.
“He was very sweet, very kind, he always shared things with children, with everyone,” she said.
“Last night for him, he was very difficult and he asked if he could sleep with his parents, and his little sister,” she said.
“We don’t accept that this is going to be his last night with his parents and his little sister.”
The family heard about Thursday’s shooting from neighbors.
Panita and her husband rushed to the scene by motorbike to search for Kamram, only to learn the worst.
Cradling her 11-month-old daughter Kanta, Panita fought back tears as she said: “It is incomprehensible.”
At the hospital in Nong Bua Lam Phu, the nearest town, relatives of the injured waited in turns at the ICU to visit their loved ones, bringing food, diapers and other supplies.
As the day wore on and the heat rose under the baking tropical sun, more and more people arrived at the nursery — the whole of a small rural community united in grief.
Where two days ago children played happily, now adults sat in shock, their disbelieving silence punctuated by occasional soft weeping.
Buarai Tanontong, 51, who lost two three-year-old grandsons, was among those left stunned by the events.
“I was very shocked and frightened. I couldn’t sleep, I didn’t think that it would be my two grandsons,” she said as she clutched her distraught daughter’s shoulder outside the nursery.
Kamjad Pra-intr said the gunman was a familiar figure in the area.
“Everyone knows who the shooter is. He used to be a police officer. He was a nice guy but later on we all know he was into meth,” she said.
“It’s a small community so we know each other and we are like a family, I know three or four kids who died there.”
© 2022 AFP