‘Miracle’ toddler survived Thailand nursery massacre asleep under blanket

UTHAI SAWAN, Thailand, Oct 9 (Reuters) – A three-year-old boy who survived last week’s massacre at a nursery in northeastern Thailand lay cowering under a blanket in the corner of the classroom.

Paveenut Supolwong, nicknamed “Ammy,” is usually a light sleeper, but when the killer entered the nursery at bedtime Thursday night and began killing 22 children, Ammy was sleeping with a blanket covering her face, her parents said.

That might have saved her life.

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Former police officer Panya Khamrap killed more than 30 people, mostly nursery school children, in a cowardly attack in Uthai Sawan town, after which she was the only girl in the nursery to escape unharmed.

“I am shocked,” said Panompai Sithong, Ammi’s mother. “I feel for the other families… I’m glad my son survived. It’s a mixed feeling of sadness and gratitude.”

On Sunday, the family’s wooden home was abuzz with relatives and neighbors sharing fish, papaya salad and reflecting on the tragedy.

They pounce on Ammi as she plays in the courtyard in a flowery gown, with an amulet around her neck, alternating between sudden attention-seeking confusion and gap-toothed grins.

Ammi’s parents said she had no recollection of the tragedy. After the killers left, someone saw her stirring in a corner of the classroom, and she was pulled out, covering her head with a blanket so she could not see the bodies of her classmates.

According to police, 11 of the 22 children were stabbed to death in the classroom where she was sleeping. Two other children were hospitalized with serious head injuries.

A rare moment of joy

On Sunday afternoon, the family sat in a circle as a religious leader read from a Sanskrit prayer book and held a Buddhist ceremony for children who had suffered bad experiences.

Ammi patiently sat on her mother’s lap, looking around shyly with wide eyes and playing with the two candles she held.

Relatives sprinkled each other with rice wine poured from silver vessels and wished each other well.

They put white threads on Ammi’s tiny wrists with good luck, pinched her cheeks and blessed her.

It was a rare moment of joy in a town mired in grief.

In addition to the slaughter at the nursery, Panya rammed his pickup truck into passers-by and shot neighbors in a two-hour standoff. Finally, he killed the woman he was living with, his son, and himself.

In nearby communities, few remain untouched.

From early Sunday morning, the families of the victims gathered at the temple where the bodies are being kept in coffins. According to local tradition, they brought gifts for the spirits of the dead, including food, milk and toys.

Later in the day they sat down for a Buddhist ceremony in the nursery, where mourners left wreaths of white flowers and more gifts.

At Ammi’s house, her mother says she believes a spirit has protected her little girl.

“My child is not a deep sleeper,” said Panompai. “I believe there must be some spirits covering her eyes and ears. We have different beliefs, but I think it protected my son.”

Another relative told local media that Ammi’s rescue was a “miracle”.

But the family had to break the news to her that her dear friend, two-year-old Techin, and her teacher had died. “She was asking grandma, ‘Why don’t you pick up Tekin from school?'” Panonpai said.

She still doesn’t know how much tragedy she has lived through.

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Writing by Poppy McPherson; Edited by Susan Fenton

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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