‘Miracle’ toddler survives Thailand nursery massacre, falls asleep under blanket

UTAISHAWAN, Thailand, Oct 9 (Reuters) – A 3-year-old fell asleep under a blanket in the corner of a classroom during last week’s massacre at a nursery in northeastern Thailand.

Paveenut Supolwong, nicknamed “Ammy,” usually sleeps lightly, but was sleeping with a blanket over her face when the killer rushed into the nursery and began murdering 22 children during her nap on Thursday, her parents said.

It probably saved her life.

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She is the only child in the nursery who was left unscathed after former police officer Panya Khamrap killed more than 30 people, most of them children, in a rampage in the town of Uthai Sawan.

“I was shocked,” said Amy’s mother, Panompai Sithong. “I feel for the rest of the family…I’m glad my child survived. It’s a mixed feeling of sadness and gratitude.”

On Sunday, the family’s log cabin was bustling with relatives and neighbors sharing fish plates, papaya salad and reflections on the tragedy.

They made a fuss about Amy as she played in the yard in a gorgeous robe, with a talisman tied around her neck, and at the sudden attention she was at times bewildered and at times grimly grinned.

Amy’s parents said she appeared to have no memory of the tragedy. After the killer left, she was found moving in a corner of the classroom, covering her head in a blanket so she couldn’t see the bodies of her classmates.

Of the 22 children stabbed to death, 11 died in the classroom where she was napping, according to police. Two other children were hospitalized with serious head injuries.

Rare moments of joy

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

Amy sat patiently on her mother’s lap, looking shyly around with big eyes, playing with the two candles in her hand.

Relatives splashed each other with rice wine poured from silver bowls and shouted for good luck.

They put white threads on Amy’s tiny wrists for good luck, pinched her cheeks, and whispered blessings.

In a town mired in grief, it was a rare moment of joy.

In addition to the massacre at the nursery, Panya rammed his pickup truck into passersby on the street and shot neighbors during the two-hour rampage. In the end, he killed the woman he lived with, her son and himself.

In tight-knit communities, few are immune.

From dawn on Sunday, the families of the victims gathered at the temple where the bodies were placed in coffins. According to local tradition, they brought food, milk and toys for the souls of the dead.

Later that day, they participated in a Buddhist ceremony at the nursery, where mourners left white garlands and more gifts.

At Amy’s home, her mother said she believed the spirit protected her young daughter.

“My child is not a deep sleeper,” Panompai said. “I believe there must be some soul in her eyes and ears. We have different beliefs, but for me, I think it protects my children.”

Another relative told local media that Amy’s survival was a “miracle”.

But the family had to tell her that her beloved best friend, two-year-old Techin and her teacher, had died. “She asked her grandmother, ‘Why don’t you go to school to pick up Techin?’,” Panompai said.

She doesn’t yet know the full extent of the tragedy she’s been through.

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Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Susan Fenton

Our Standard: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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