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A massacre that rippled through generations in Thailand


Ryn Jirenuwat

The writer is a freelance journalist and producer

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When a former police officer in rural Thailand shot and stabbed more than two dozen children as they napped in their preschool in October, the episode became the worst mass shooting by a lone attacker in Thailand’s history.

After the attack — which killed 36 people, 24 of them children — Thai authorities ordered law enforcement agencies to tighten gun ownership rules in Thailand, which has more guns than anywhere else in Southeast Asia.

But little else has changed. And the families continue to grieve.

Many of the children were cared for by their grandparents as their parents worked in faraway cities. “These kinds of families — we call them ‘skipped-generation families,’” said Patcharin Lapanun, an assistant professor at Thailand’s Khon Kaen University. “In these kinds of households, there are the grandchildren and grandparents living together, but their parents leave home.”

That distance amplified the pain that has rippled across generations where the attack occurred, in Uthai Sawan.

Chatchai Geecharoen said he typically took care of his son, Chaiyot “Yot” Keecharoen, 3. But over the summer, he had left their small town to work in a factory in Bangkok. Uthai Sawan, in the northeast of Thailand, is one of the poorest regions in the country. “There was no job here,” said Chatchai, 31.

He said Yot was a lively boy who loved eating, dancing and playing with toy cars and dinosaurs. When Yot’s grandfather told Chatchai that there had been a shooting at the day care, he said he dropped everything and drove 332 miles from Bangkok. “It is hard to come to terms with this,” he said.

Thanathep “Chelsea” Kamsorn was 2. Duangporn Kumsorn, his paternal grandmother, said she raised him together with Chelsea’s mother. Chelsea’s father works in Israel and had never seen his son.

Chelsea loved playing doctor with a toy stethoscope and pretending to give injections with toy syringes. If he saw his grandmother lying down, he would check to see if she was sick and try to feed her. “He had just started to speak more and more,” Duangporn said. “It was adorable when he spoke.”

Vorrapat Norrabutr, 3, was the stepson of Panya Kamrap, the shooter. On the day of the attack, Panya had gone to the center to look for his stepson, but Vorrapat was not there.

Investigators said Panya had argued with his wife, Kampan Chantakool, that morning. Vorrapat’s father, Khomsan Norrabutr, said he and Vorrapat’s mother separated when the boy was only a few months old.

Khomsan, 33, took care of the boy until Kampan told him that she wanted custody, saying that Panya’s benefits as a police officer meant Vorrapat could go to school free. “We were worried about my son’s future, so we decided to let him go with them,” Khomsan said.

On October 7, after his rampage in the day care center, Panya stormed into their house and shot Vorrapat, his wife and himself.

Phattanan Mumklang, 4, was called “Nong Mo,” or “Little Mo.” She loved soccer but disliked taking showers, something that her paternal grandmother, Saowanee Donchot, nagged her about.

Her parents were separated and lived in towns far away from each other — and away from her. Phattanan did, however, have a close relationship with her grandmother. “We were each other’s shadow. We did everything together,” Saowanee said.

Pattarawat Jamnongnit’s mother wanted her son to be a pilot. The boy, 2, lived with his father, a mechanic, and his grandparents while his mother worked at an electronics factory in Khon Kaen, around 90 miles away. He had only entered the day care in July, at the start of a new semester.

Pattarawat was a voracious milk drinker, his grandmother recalled, and could drink five boxes in a row. He was also very polite, never forgetting to show respect to his grandmother by bowing to her with his hands clasped to say thank you, even when he was sleepy.

“‘Are you tired from working, Mom?’”

Although his parents worked in a factory in Bangkok and he was being raised by his grandmother, Aphiwut Manochart, 3, spoke to his mother every day on the phone. “He loved asking me, ‘Are you tired from working, Mom?’” said Rassamee Tunawa, his mother.

“The last time we talked was the day that he passed away.”

Thong-arn Wangkhiri, 50, said her grandchild, Theerayut Wangkhiri, 3, loved being on her farm, spending nights near the rice field in Uthai Sawan. Theerayut often led his friends in dance. Like many of his classmates, he loved the song “Kokowa,” from the South Korean television series “Squid Game.”

His parents heard about the attack from Thong-arn’s cousin, who lived near the day care. “Less than 30 minutes later, his mother called me and said, ‘There’s no more. They are all dead.’” - The New York Times

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