Families of Thai victims wait at morgue

EMILY SCHMALL and PREEYAPA T. KHUNSONG
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THAI SHOOTING

Relatives of the shooting victims have gathered at a Thai morgue, waiting to collect their bodies

Thai officials say it could be days before autopsies are completed for victims of a mass shooting in the Nakhon Ratchasima district and their bodies can be handed to families.

Sirirat Nualraksa lost her sister, brother-in-law and young nephew in the attack. when a Thai soldier killed 29 people and wounded dozens of others in a shopping mall rampage.

She was among dozens of victims' relatives sitting in plastic chairs and on concrete benches outside the morgue on Sunday, 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 Nualraksa, as she hid with her husband and 2-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.

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 saw photos of the body of her sister, arms wrapped around her 2-year-old, and the boy's father nearby.

Kanokphon Watchawan, 28, came from Bangkok to retrieve the body of her brother, Wanchai, who was killed while working at a store on the mall's second story. Kanokphon said hospital authorities told her to come back for him on Tuesday.

A funeral was held Sunday for a 13-year-old middle school student who was riding his motorbike when Jakrapanth fatally shot him en route to the mall.

Elsewhere in the city, about 1,000 people gathered under a full moon around the city's most important monument, a statue of Thao Suranari, who is credited with saving her people from an invading Lao king in the early 19th century.

People chanted prayers along with a slate of Buddhist priests leading funeral rites, holding candles in one hand and with the other, pointing to the sky, a gesture Buddhists believe directs souls to heaven.