There were so many coffins — 19 in all — that they lined an entire wall of the Wat Rat Samakee temple. A long white string, a Buddhist symbol of purity and protection, ran across their tops. Placed around each coffin were items to carry the young children into the afterlife: a Spiderman outfit, a plush kitty, juice boxes, grilled pork and toy trucks, many of them.
The town of Uthai Sawan on Saturday started formally mourning their dead, 36 of them. Twenty-three were children in a day care center who died Thursday when a former police officer shot and stabbed them in a rampage. There was Asia, 3, who loved cycling and was allowed to ride his bike inside his house. Lying several coffins away was Daen, 4, who loved Matchbox cars.
Uthai Sawan is a rural town of about 6,000 in northeastern Thailand. The funerals had to be split across three temples. Monks from neighboring provinces traveled to the town to help with the funeral rites. On Saturday morning, the framed photograph of Athibodin Silumtai, whom everyone called Asia, was still not ready because there was only one photo shop in town, said Khamphong Silumtai, his great-aunt.
"It just feels like this is not his time to go," said Khamphong, 46. "He is too young and too innocent. He was gone too soon."
Thailand is a majority-Buddhist country, where the faithful believe that making merits, or doing good deeds, is essential for the deceased to live well in the afterlife. Funerals are often carried out with that goal in mind.
Phra Winai, who has been ordained for 24 years, said he traveled to Uthai Sawan from nearby Loei province to see if he could help. He said he has carried out funeral rites for young children who died by drowning or in accidents, but "never anything like this."
"This is such a tragedy," Phra Winai said. But, he said, the tenets of Buddhist teaching are that life is a cycle involving birth, aging, suffering and death.
"Look at nature: When a tree gives fruit, the fruit does not always ripen." he said. "The young fruit can fall when there's wind," he added. "Life is so unpredictable and uncertain. We can't do anything with this uncertainty."