3-year-old slept through attack that killed her classmates

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Three-year-old Emmy was napping next to her best friend at a day-care centre in northern Thailand when the attacker broke in, armed with a gun and a knife.

The class of 11 children, all around three years old, had earlier been busy drawing and writing. At around 10:00 local time, teachers sent photo updates to all the parents of smiling, happy children.

Two hours later, at nap time, former police officer Panya Kamrab stormed the building. Witnesses said he first shot staff, including a teacher who was eight months pregnant, before forcing his way into each of the three kindergarten classrooms.

He murdered all of Emmy’s friends as they slept.

It is unclear how she survived. She was found awake, curled up next to the bodies of her classmates.

“She had no idea what was happening when she woke up,” her 59-year-old grandfather Somsak Srithong tells me from the family home.

“She thought that her friends were still asleep. A police officer covered her face with a cloth and carried her away from all the blood.”

Rescuers took Emmy to the second floor to shield her from the horror. They then combed the other two classes, desperately hoping to find others alive.

She is the only child to live through the massacre in Nong Bua Lamphu on Thursday. In total 37 people died – including the wife and stepson of the attacker – and 24 of the dead are children.

“I feel very grateful that she survived. I held her so tight when I first saw her,” says Somsak.

Emmy’s mother, 35-year-old Panompai Srithong, works in Bangkok during the week. She had been told that all of the children at the centre had died, and needed to be convinced her daughter was still alive.

“I finally got a video call with Emmy and was filled with blessed relief,” she says.

This small town is filled with grieving families, and for the first few days, Emmy’s grandparents struggled to know what to tell her.

We talk quietly as she plays with her favourite Hello Kitty wellington boots in the garden. She keeps asking after her best friend, three-year-old Pattarawut, who was also known as Taching.

They always napped together with their feet touching. She also loved the day care centre and wanted to be just like her teachers.

“Her grandmother finally told her that her school friends had all died, along with her teacher, and the day care centre is closed,” her mum says.

“She just wants to go to school every day. We have to keep telling her the school is closed down. She is too young to understand the concept of death.”

Buddhist funeral rites and prayers for the victims are taking place at several temples in the town to mark the start of three days of mourning.

The motive for the attack is not yet known, but police said Kamrab was fired from his job in June for drug use.

This small rural town in north-eastern Thailand is trying to support the anguished families in their grief. But many are also asking about the widespread availability of deadly weapons and the country’s pervasive problem with drugs.

“Parents are asking: ‘Where is a safe place for their children?’ I’m so sad and I beg that any authority would strengthen our safety,” pleads Emmy’s uncle Veerachai Srithong.