Fifteen others were wounded, eight critically, in the attack in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu, a largely agricultural region that has one of the highest poverty rates in Thailand.
According to officials, Panya barged into the day-care center in the Naklang district of Nong Bua Lamphu just before 1 p.m. He killed 23 people, most of them young children, before fleeing in a white pickup truck. During his escape, he shot and killed nine more people.
The youngest victim was 2 years old, officials at the Naklang district police station told The Washington Post. They added that most of the children were asleep when the attack happened because it was nap time.
Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha called the incident “shocking” in a statement, adding that he was sending the national police chief, Damrongsak Kittiprapha, to the crime scene.
“I would like to say sorry to all the families who lost their loved ones,” Damrongsak told reporters before traveling to Nong Bua Lamphu. “I’m going to fly to the site and personally command the operation.”
Mass shootings are rare in Thailand, though rates of gun ownership — and gun homicides — are higher here than in other parts of Asia. Thailand, with a population of nearly 70 million, has more than 10 million privately owned guns, of which over 4 million are illegal, according to a database run by the University of Sydney in Australia.
In 2020, in what was then the deadliest mass shooting in Thailand’s history, a soldier who was angered over a personal land dispute killed 29 people and injured 57 others in the city Nakhon Ratchasima.
The gunman trapped and killed victims inside a busy shopping mall, holding out for hours before he was eventually shot and killed by law enforcement. Deadly violence is less common in northern Thailand than in the south, where the military has been engaged in a decades-old conflict with insurgents. Some of the country’s deadliest events have been military crackdowns on protesters.
Tan reported from Singapore. Annabelle Timsit in London contributed to this report.