Thai massacre families pray as king shows grief

Na Klang, Thailand (AFP) — Heartbroken families prayed Saturday for the victims of a Thai nursery massacre as the king offered his support, telling relatives he “shares their grief” in a rare public interaction with his subjects.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn met survivors and relatives at a hospital in northeastern Nong Bua Lam Phu province late on Friday, a day after an ex-policeman murdered 24 children and 12 adults on a three-hour gun and knife rampage in a sleepy rural area.

Families and well-wishers offered prayers at a Buddhist temple on Saturday, beginning three days of funeral rituals for the victims of one of the country’s worst-ever mass killings.

Incense mingled with the smell of countless bouquets of flowers arrayed around the coffins, many topped with photos of the smiling chubby faces of children cut down by sacked Police Sergeant Panya Khamrab.

Flowers and toys offered as gifts to the departed youngsters piled up at the gates of the nursery as the close-knit community in rural Na Klang district struggled to comprehend the atrocity.

“I have a son myself and he likes to play with toy cars, so I thought the children killed in the attack would love it as well — they were about the same age as my son,” Weerapol Sonjai, 38, told AFP after leaving an offering.

Rare visit

As the king offered his help and condolences during his hospital visit, grieving families knelt on the floor — as is Thai custom in the presence of the monarch, who is seen as semi-divine.

“I come here to give you support. I am extremely sad about what has happened. I share your sorrow, your grief,” he said in video footage published online on Saturday.

“There are no words that can express the sorrow. I support you all and wish you to be strong, so the spirits of the children can be at ease.”

The king, with Queen Suthida at his side, said he would pray for the dead.

“We have to do our best, the best that we can,” he said.

The royal visit came after a day of grief at the small yellow-walled nursery on the edge of a village some 500 kilometers (300 miles) north of Bangkok.

Weeping parents placed white roses one by one on steps of the nursery where their young children’s lives were cut short.

Duenphen Srinamburi, the grandmother of one of the victims, described the horror of the attack.

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