BANGKOK, Thailand -- Mass cremations lit up the night sky on Tuesday (October 11) in northeast Thailand during Buddhist funerals for 36 people, including 24 children, massacred by a ranting x-cop.

Dead children were dressed in newly-tailored clothes of their fantasy careers, including tiny white coats and uniforms for those who hoped to be doctors or nurses, military uniforms for would-be soldiers, or civilian outfits if they fancied becoming teachers or other work.

Local Buddhist temples refused to cremate the killer's corpse, so it was secretly burned at a temple elsewhere in a ceremony attended by a handful of his relatives.

The king arranged "royally-sponsored cremations" at three main Buddhist temples in and around Uthai Sawan town where the slaughter took place.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha flew to the small town to meet relatives and survivors, and led the main cremation ceremony.

Smaller cremations were being held at other nearby Buddhist temples where relatives also brought corpses in coffins.

Mourners suffered remembering the horror.

On October 6, when children lay napping after eating lunch on a rainy day in their childcare center, their dreams soon became gruesome nightmares.

Thailand's deadliest mass killing of civilians by a lone gunman had begun.

When a former police officer entered the daycare center and began shooting and stabbing staff and kids, and later committed suicide, the death toll rose to least 36 victims.

Among the slaughtered lay 21 boys and three girls.

Thailand’s Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) identified former police officer Panya Khamrab, 34, as the killer.

His motivation was not immediately known.

When Mr. Panya forced his way into a locked classroom and began randomly stabbing sleeping kids, the nap room became a scene of splattered and puddled blood, with tiny survivors writhing and moaning.

The gunman meanwhile escaped by driving away, allegedly killing people as he fled, and reportedly crashing into a motorcyclist and injuring two people.

Mr. Panya soon found his main targets -- his wife and three-year-old son -- police said.

Spent, suicidal, and without hope, he shot both of them dead, and then killed himself, police said.

Police had surrounded the house while the gunman and his wife and child were inside, perhaps to negotiate with him before the saga ended, the Bangkok Post reported.

"My wife was due next month," wailed the crying husband of the pregnant teacher who Mr. Panya had stabbed to death.

"I will never get to see my wife with our child," the husband said on Thai television, while tears streamed down his face.

Soon after the killings, terrified parents and others ran to the neat one-story building to find out if their loved ones survived amid a chaos of weeping and shouting, sirens and security officials, medical staff and Thai media.

Outside, in the daycare center's garden, unwashed lunch dishes still lay on tables, after the teachers and kids had stuffed themselves with vegetables and rice.

Mr. Panya was dismissed from the police force last year after being busted for methamphetamine possession, intoxication, and being a public nuisance, police said.

That clue indicates Mr. Panya was grappling with the highly addictive, illegally manufactured drug which can induce hallucinations, paranoia, fears of persecution, and other real and imagined problems.

The first of two autopsies, however, reported Mr. Panya had not consumed methedrine during his final 72 hours.

The northeast region is mostly agricultural, in one of Thailand's poorest provinces.

Illegal methamphetamines are popular throughout Thailand and known as "ya baa" -- crazy medicine.

In large quantities, the powder fetches huge profits for criminals who exploit consumers craving cheap thrills.

Frequent arrests, confiscations, addiction, and imprisonment for offenders has wrecked the lives of amateur dealers, impoverished workers hoping for an energy boost, and others lured by meth's energizing rush.

Mr. Panya began “opening fire while the kids were sleeping,” the CIB's Maj. Gen. Jirapob Puridet said.

The disgraced x-cop wielded a 9mm handgun -- legally purchased for personal use -- and a knife, National Police Chief, Gen. Damrongsak Kittipraphat, said at a newsconference.

Police Gen. Torsak said the gun may have been a SIG Sauer pistol, and he may have also used a meat cleaver to kill and injure.

No one was able to immediately explain Mr. Panya's motive, so investigators began piecing together his recent timeline leading up to the murders, hoping to find what triggered the mayhem.

Mr. Panya began his day in Uthai Sawan town, 500 km (310 miles) northeast of Bangkok, near the Mekong River which forms part of Thailand's border with Laos.

In the morning, he went to a local court to hear an update about his drug case.

The court told him to appear again the next day, October 7, Police Chief Damrongsak said.

Some Thai reports said the court found him guilty of possession of methamphetamines and was due to sentence him on October 7.

It was not immediately known what else he experienced or was told while there, but apparently Mr. Panya left the court house and drove to the nearby Uthai Sawan Child Development Center, armed and ranting.

He was looking for his three-year-old son.

"He was already stressed, and when he couldn't find his child he was more stressed and started shooting," a police spokesperson, Paisal Luesomboon, told ThaiPBS media.

"He started shooting, slashing, killing children at the Uthai Sawan daycare center," Mr. Paisal said.

"The shooter came in around lunch time and shot four or five officials at the child care center first," one woman was quoted as saying.

"It's really shocking. We were very scared and running to hide once we knew it was a shooting. So many children got killed," she said.

Some staff escaped when the gunman ran out of bullets.

Other teachers locked themselves in a room and climbed out a window.

They were unable to stop him barging into one of the nap rooms where children -- mostly aged between two and four -- were sleeping.

"There were some staff eating lunch outside the nursery, and the attacker parked his car and shot four of them dead," the nursery's activing chief, Nanthicha Punchum, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

"The shooter smashed down the door with his leg and then came inside and started slashing children's heads with a knife," she said.

Prime Minister Prayuth announced: "I have ordered the police chief to travel to the scene immediately, to take necessary actions, and all involved parties to provide immediate relief to all affected people."

Investigators also want to find out why Mr. Panya was initially so obsessed with finding his son, and why he became so angry that he vented his rage with bullets and sharpened metal.

Meanwhile, when local hospitals asked the public to urgently donate blood to keep severely injured survivors alive, people lined up to contribute.

Mass shootings of civilians are rare in Thailand.

Thailand's previous biggest mass shooting occurred nearby in 2020 when an army gunman in a Korat city shopping mall killed 29 people, before snipers shot him dead.

"Local gun laws and the required background checks are quite strict," the Bangkok Post reported.

"The estimated total number of guns held, legally and illegally, by civilians in Thailand was 10.3 million in 2017, or one for about every seven citizens. Of those, about 4 million were illegal."


Richard S. Ehrlich is a Bangkok-based American foreign correspondent reporting from Asia since 1978. Excerpts from his two new nonfiction books, "Rituals. Killers. Wars. & Sex. -- Tibet, India, Nepal, Laos, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka & New York" and "Apocalyptic Tribes, Smugglers & Freaks" are available at