Grief swells as Thais mourn 29 killed in mass shooting

By AFP,

Grieving relatives of 29 people murdered by a rogue soldier in Thailand held tearful Buddhist prayer ceremonies Monday, as fresh details emerged of shoppers cowering in terror while the gunman stalked the mall.

Holding portraits of their relatives and dabbing away tears, families of the victims arrived on Monday morning at a city morgue in Nakhon Ratchasima, better known as Korat, in the morning to carry home coffins bearing their dead.

The gunman — Sergeant-Major Jakrapanth Thomma — was shot dead by a commando unit Sunday morning, ending a rampage that left 29 dead and scores more wounded.

The killer started his killing spree on Saturday afternoon with weapons stolen from a barracks’ arsenal, where he gunned down Mehta Lertsiri, 22, who was guarding the depot.

“I don’t know what to do next,” Mehta’s grief-stricken grandfather, Udom Prapotsang, said outside of the morgue waiting to claim his body.

“His four-year-old son keeps asking why he can’t call his dad.”

After seizing the weapons, the shooter drove to a Buddhist temple, where blood splatters and bullet holes attested Monday to the horrors that unfolded.

Narissara Chotklang, a 52-year-old Pharmacist, was among nine people to die there.

Her funeral rites began late Monday a few kilometres away, where hundreds of mourners lined up to pour water over a jasmine garland placed delicately over her outstretched hand.

The attacker then moved to the town centre mall, where a terrifying siege unfolded late Saturday.

Armed with automatic weapons, the gunman held out overnight as hundreds of shoppers sought refuge in toilets, storerooms and under tables — staying silent or making a break for the exits when they could.

Pressed to the ground in an office inside a Japanese home goods shop, Partiya Aree, 29, tried to control her breathing as she watched the masked soldier stop just yards away on the shop’s own CCTV.

“He was carrying a gun, looking left and right constantly,” Partiya told AFP.

Alongside 21 others, they disabled location services on their phone fearing the social media-obsessed gunman might be able to find them.

Her group escaped several hours later, flanked by police in a sprint for the mall entrance “which felt like forever.”

But others were not so fortunate.

Flowers and messages of condolences including one saying “R.I.P. Korat, we will not forget” piled up outside the bullet-riddled mall.

A Buddhist monk in orange robes led a prayer ceremony on a grass verge outside the mall for Peeraphat Palasan, shot dead as the gunman sprayed bullets into traffic, killing the 25-year-old engineer.

His father, Witoon, was among a dozen mourners crying, kneeling, hands clasped — some holding incense sticks — in prayer.

“My son had just finished work and came here to go shopping,” Witoon told AFP. “I never thought I would lose him so soon.”

– PM criticised –

As Korat — and the country — mourned, there were growing questions about why the gunman went on a killing spree over an apparent private debt to a senior officer and how he was able to steal weapons, including an M60 machine gun, and hundreds of rounds of ammunition.

Divisive Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha was hammered on social media for a tone-deaf response to the crisis during a visit to the city on Sunday where he posed for selfies, high-fived a crowd and smiled before shutting down questions from the media at a press conference.

“There should be no smiles, joking around and touching hands like people are your fan club,” popular blogger Sorakon Adulyanon, aka Noom Muang Chan, said on Facebook.

Others drew unfavourable comparisons with the dignified response of New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to the Christchurch mass shooting last year.

As criticism snowballed, the gruff former army chief Prayut was prodded into a rare act of contrition late Sunday.

“We are all saddened by what happened,” he said on his official Facebook page.

“I intended to offer my moral support… my expression may have been misunderstood or made many people uncomfortable.”

Image credit: AFP / CHALINEE THIRASUPA

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