The attack took place in rural Nongbua Lamphu in northeastern Thailand, one of the country’s poorest regions.

BANGKOK, Thailand β€” A former police officer facing drug charges stormed a day care center in Thailand on Thursday, killing dozens of preschoolers and teachers before shooting more people as he fled. At least 36 people were killed in the deadliest attack in the country’s history.

The attacker, who was fired earlier this year, took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.

Pictures taken by emergency services show the floor of the school littered with the tiny bodies of children still lying on blankets where they slept after lunch. The photos showed cuts on their faces and shots to the head and pools of blood.

The teacher told public broadcaster ThaiPBS that the attacker got out of the car and immediately shot a man who was having lunch outside, then fired several more shots. When the attacker paused to reload, the teacher had an opportunity to run inside.

“I ran to the back, the children were sleeping,” said the young woman, who did not give her name, choking on her words. “The children were two or three years old.”

The attack took place in rural Nongbua Lamphu in northeastern Thailand, one of the country’s poorest regions.

Another witness said staff at the daycare locked the door, but the suspect shot inside.

“The teacher who died had a child in her arms,” ​​an unnamed witness told Thai television station Kom Chad Luek. “I didn’t think he was going to kill the kids, but he shot at the door and shot right through.”

At least 10 people were injured, including six seriously, police spokesman Archayon Kraithong said.

Video taken by first responders on the scene shows rescuers rushing into the one-story building past a broken glass door, with drops of blood visible on the ground in the driveway.

In videos posted online after the attack, distraught family members could be heard crying outside the building. One image showed a blood-smeared floor with sleeping mats scattered around the room. Pictures of the alphabet and other colorful decorations adorned the walls.

Police identified the suspect as 34-year-old former police officer Panya Kamrap. Police Major General Paisal Lusambun told PPTV that he was dismissed from the police earlier this year due to drug charges.

In a Facebook post, Thailand’s police chief, General Dumrongsak Kittiprapas, said the man, who was a sergeant, was due in court on Friday for a methamphetamine-related hearing and suggested he may have chosen day care because it it was close to his home.

Earlier, Dumrongsak told reporters that the man’s main weapon was a 9 mm pistol that he bought himself. Paisal said he also had a gun and a knife.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, who planned to travel to the scene on Friday, told reporters that it was initially reported that the former officer had personal problems.

“This should not happen,” he said. “I feel deep sadness for the victims and their families.”

Police did not release a full death toll, but said at least 22 children and two adults were killed at the daycare. At least two other children were killed elsewhere.

Thailand’s gun-related death rate is much lower than countries like the US and Brazil, but higher than Japan and Singapore, which have strict gun control laws. The rate of gun deaths in 2019 was about 4 per 100,000, compared to about 11 per 100,000 in the United States and almost 23 per 100,000 in Brazil.

Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia: 15.1 guns per 100 people, compared with 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still significantly lower than the U.S. rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australian non-profit

Countries previous worst mass shooting involving a disaffected soldier who opened fire in and around a shopping mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for about 16 hours before he was eventually killed by them.

About 60 more people were injured as a result of this attack. The death toll surpassed that of the deadliest attack on civilians in 2015 at a shrine in Bangkok, which killed 20 people. It is believed to have been done by traffickers in retaliation for their network being suppressed.

Last month, clerk shot social workers at Thailand’s military college in Bangkok, killing two and injuring another before he was arrested.

Associated Press writers David Rising, Chalida Ekvittoyavechnukul, Elaine Kurtenbach and Grant Peck contributed to this story.