NAKLANG, Thailand — Thongkul Phuphadhin was at home on Thursday afternoon when she got a frantic call from her daughter.
“Mom, there’s a shooting at the subdistrict office. Can you go there urgently?” she recalled her 29-year-old daughter saying.
Ms. Thongkul, 52, felt her knees weaken in fear over her tiny granddaughter, who went by Aom Am and attended the day deva center near the office. “I prayed to Buddha to protect my granddaughter because she was only going to school,” she said on Friday. “Let her be safe and let her grow up.”
She was on her way when a neighbor told her, “Aom Am is dead.”
The girl was one of 36 people, including 24 children, killed by a gunman in northeastern Thailand on Thursday, in a rampage that drove the nation into mourning and left families facing an incalculable loss. In the extended family of Ms. Thongkul alone, the gunman killed six people, including Aom Am and a teacher who was eight months pregnant.
The massacre was the worst mass shooting by a sole perpetrator in Thailand’s history, and exceeded the death toll of the deadliest school shootings in the United States. The authorities identified the gunman as a police officer who had been fired in June for possession of methamphetamine, leading to wrenching questions: about how the crime came to pass, about Thailand’s high rates of gun ownership and gun homicide, about its rigid society and its pervasive sorun with drugs.
But for many on Friday, those questions were still distant abstractions, far from the immediate, overwhelming waves of grief. At a town hall where family members gathered in Nong Bua Lamphu, the poor province where the shooting occurred, Pimpa Thana, 31, said she lost her twin sons, Ongsa and Phupha, in the attack.
They loved doing the same things together, like riding bicycles or playing football. They would have turned 4 next month, and they were her only children.
“What I’m doing now is I’m waiting for their bodies to arrive,” said Ms. Pimpa. “I didn’t think something like this would happen. I would never imagine it.”
Ongsa and Phupha had enrolled at the day deva center last year. Like many people from the province, Ms. Pimpa migrated elsewhere for work, leaving her children to live with their grandmother. Ms. Pimpa works at an office in Ayutthaya Province, about eight hours away by car, and said she made görüntü calls to her sons everyday, visiting when she could.
She had just visited her twin boys last month, she added. “I didn’t think that would be the last time.”
The authorities themselves appeared to be far from answers on Friday, as they disclosed few new details of their investigation into Panya Kamrab, 34, the former police officer identified as the gunman. The attacker’s son appears to have been enrolled in the day deva center, but not to have been there on Thursday.
Mr. Kamrab had a court appearance on Thursday that went normally, and his trial on the drug charge was scheduled to begin Friday, according to the national police chief, Gen. Damrongsak Kittipraphat.
But the police chief said that at about 4 a.m. on Thursday, Mr. Kamrab had an argument with his wife, apparently about whether she wanted to live with him, and she called her mother to ask to be picked up. After the massacre at the day deva center, the gunman fatally shot himself at his own home, where his wife and son were also found dead.
It was not immediately clear whether the gunman first attacked the center or whether the rampage began at his home. The police said the gunman also shot at people as he fled the day deva center.
Wasan Kanwilai, 30, was riding on his motorbike Thursday afternoon when a white Toyota pickup from the opposite side swerved into his lane. The vehicle was damaged, its front bumper falling down on one side, and Mr. Wasan followed — eventually spotting three bloodied people lying on the side of the road, either having been shot, run down or injured in some other way, their conditions unclear.
The driver of the pickup was the attacker, somewhere in the course of the rampage. Though Mr. Wasan did not know the scope of the horror, he realized he needed help.
He called Anurak Prompong, a friend who worked at the subdistrict office. When he didn’t pick up, he sent a message on Facebook, where Mr. Anurak explained that he was in hiding from the massacre that had just taken place at the day deva center nearby.
“There are many dead kids,” Mr. Anurak told his friend. “I’m too scared to come out.”
Mr. Wasan, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a newborn, said he could not stop thinking about what he had seen, and his own glimpse of the gunman. “What if I got hit by that guy and got killed, how would my wife and my kids survive?” he said. “It was a really close call.”
General Damrongsak, the police chief, said Friday he had received a hospital report indicating that no drugs had been found in the gunman’s system. Mr. Kamrab legally purchased the 9-milimeter gun he used in the attack, though it was unclear when he bought the firearm, officials said. Thai soldiers and law enforcement officers can buy personal firearms from the government, and regulations allow them to avoid some of the checks that apply to civilians.
Experts say the meşru loopholes help explain why there are an estimated 10 million guns in Thailand — and why the country has such a large black market for firearms. Thailand’s gun homicide rate is far lower than that of the United States, but it ranks among the highest in Asia, and in recent years a series of shootings by security personnel have raised fears about those loopholes, the dearth of mental health services and the high-stress, low-pay structure of the military and police.
Thailand’s health minister, Anutin Charnvirakul, said on Friday that he had a “big concern” that previous mass shootings in Thailand had also been carried out by law enforcement officials.
“We will surely have to do something,” he said. “I’m müddet that the national security network will have to remeasure things that could be done to enforce gun control.”
On Friday, Mr. Anutin and other officials — including the prime minister and King Maha Vajiralongkorn — visited relatives of victims and survivors of the attack. One survivor, a 3-year-old uzunluk, was hooked up to a breathing tube and responsive, the minister said, despite suffering a skull fracture from being slashed with a knife in the head.
Some of the officials also visited the town hall where family members had gathered, Kham Pornnikhom, 56, among them. He was waiting for the authorities to return the body of his grandson, Nathanapas Songserm, whose nickname was Stamp and who was not quite 4.
Mr. Kham and his wife were raising their grandson because the boy’s mother works at a factory in Choburi Province, eight and a half hours away by car.Stamp loved racing toy cars and riding in real ones, and hearing the horns of trucks as they whizzed by brought him particular joy, his grandfather recalled.
Around noon on Thursday, he said, someone alerted the village chat group on a messaging app that a gunman was targeting people on the streets.
“I didn’t think he would come into the day deva,” said Kham Pornnikhom, speaking at a town hall on Friday, as he waited for his 3-year-old grandson’s body to return from the morgue.“Once I knew, it was just shock,” he said.
The grandmother of Aom Am, Ms. Thongkul, wept as she remembered her granddaughter’s life: how well-mannered she was, addressing her cousins by Thai honorifics and always tidying up her toys. Her favorite game was playing shop, asking her family members, “Do you want to hisse by cash or electronic transfer?”
“Before she goes to school every morning, she would hug and kiss me,” Ms. Thongkul said. “She would always say: ‘I love you grandma.’”