Sirirat Kualraksa blinked back tears as the ambulances delivered gurneys bearing cloth-shrouded bodies to the morgue of a public hospital on Sunday, hours after a vengeful Thai soldier killed 29 people and wounded dozens of others in a shopping mall rampage.
Sirirat, 43, was among dozens of victims’ relatives sitting in plastic chairs and on concrete benches outside the morgue, waiting to fill out paperwork to lay claim to their loved ones and receive compensation from the Thai government’s criminal victims’ fund.
On Facebook, she had talked with her sister, 33-year-old Papatchaya Kualraksa, as she hid with her husband and their two-year-old in a supermarket storage room. Sirirat advised her sister to nurse her son so he wouldn’t make noise and risk revealing the family to the gunman, whose rounds of automatic fire echoed around the seven-story mall.
In a Facebook call, Papatchaya told her sister that she was scared.
READ MORE: 26 killed, 57 wounded in shooting at Thai mall, police say
“Gunshots could be heard endlessly and loudly. But there was no sign” of a rescue, Sirirat said. Still, “both of us thought that she would be able to get out.”
They exchanged several Facebook messages before Papatchaya went quiet.
About 13 hours later, the standoff ended when Thai special forces fatally shot the gunman, whom authorities identified as Sgt. Maj. Jakrapanth Thomma.
Sirirat later received photos from a friend, an officer who responded to the mall, of the body of her sister, arms wrapped around her two-year-old, and the boy’s father nearby.
At the hospital, a team from the government mental health department handed out cake and tissues, screening people for abnormal expressions of grief, according to Wimonwan Panyawong, a clinical psychologist who travelled from Bangkok northeast to Nakhon Ratchasima, a city of 150,000 people about 250 kilometres away.
The hospital’s lone forensic pathologist was joined by two others from out of town, but officials said it could be days before autopsies were complete and the bodies could be handed over.
Kanokphon Watchawan, 28, came from Bangkok to retrieve the body of her brother, Wanchai, whom she said was killed while working at a store on the mall’s second story. Watchawan said hospital authorities told her to come back for him on Tuesday.