NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand
Authorities in northern Thailand began releasing bodies to relatives Monday after security forces cornered and killed a soldier who carried out the country’s worst mass shooting in an hourslong siege at a shopping mall.
The soldier killed 29 people starting with his commanding officer in a stunning tragedy that began Saturday and ended Sunday morning when security forces shot dead the heavily armed attacker in Terminal 21 Korat, an airport-themed mall in Nakhon Ratchasima.
The gunman, Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma, 31, was infuriated at a land deal brokered by his commander’s mother-in-law, as far as authorities have been able to determine. She was another of his victims.
The death toll surpassed Thailand’s last major attack on civilians, a 2015 bombing at a shrine in Bangkok killing 20 people that was allegedly carried out by human traffickers in retaliation for a crackdown on their network.
Messages of sympathy on the latest tragedy were sent by several countries.
The healing process will take a long time: Many of the 58 wounded are still in bad condition. The Public Health Ministry sent a mental health crisis team to help relatives of the deceased cope with their losses.
Survivors and victims’ families at the city’s hospitals recounted traumatic ordeals.
Cpl. Korakot Ampanngeun said he had been ordered to block a road so no one could go toward the gunman.
“So I was signaling to oncoming traffic, when I turned around and saw him. If I had not, I would not have survived,” he recalled. “I tried to run and find somewhere to hide. But I could only take two steps and then I heard the sound — ‘bang.’ My leg just went and I couldn’t walk. A good Samaritan helped carry me away.”
High school student Nachote Chotiklang said he was in his mother’s car as she passed the gunman’s vehicle.
The assailant “got out of the car and fired into the window. At that, I ducked down and didn’t do anything until I felt that car hit something. It hit a tree.”
When the teen was asked what happened to his mother, Nachote shook his head. Another man explained that she had died.
Rachanon Kanchanamethi was riding a motorbike home when the gunman fired on him. The 13-year-old middle school student had the nickname James Bond. He was his family’s only child.
The father spoke at the first day of his son’s Buddhist funeral.
“I don’t want to lose him like this,” Nuttawut Kanchanamethi said. “This is too sudden. We had plans for him, growing up. That’s all. We didn’t impose any expectations on him.”
Nuttawut paused for a long moment.
“I want to continue taking care of him, but I no longer have that opportunity,” he said, breaking into sobs.
The bodies of security personnel began to be flown Monday morning to the capital Bangkok for funerals.
Nakhon Ratchasima was not prepared for killing on such a scale. The public hospital’s lone forensic doctor is performing autopsies before the bodies are released to families for cremation, but families were told he can only do a maximum of six autopsies per day, so some families won’t be able to retrieve their loved ones until Tuesday.