Bishop Joseph Chusak Sirisut of Nakhon Ratchasima in Thailand has expressed his sorrow after the deadliest mass killing in the country’s history.

Relatives grieving a staggering loss Friday laid flowers at a day care center in rural northeastern Thailand where a fired police officer slaughtered dozens of people, including children as young as 2 who were napping.

The entire country reeled in the wake of Thursday’s grisly attack in a small town nestled among rice paddies in one of the nation’s poorest regions. At least 24 of the 36 people killed in the assault, Thailand’s deadliest shooting rampage, were children.

Police identified the attacker as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine. He had been due to appear in court Friday. An employee told a Thai TV station that Panya’s son had attended the day care but hadn’t been there for about a month.

When asked whether he thought the center was secure enough, Sirisut noted the attacker had been a police officer. “He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it. I think everyone did the best they could.”

“We feel sorry for this tragic incident, especially with small children who have no chance to defend themselves, and no way to fight. We beseech the Lord to have mercy on the souls of these deceased,” Sirisut said.

“Violence should not be used to solve the problem. especially with others or even with oneself because all of us are children of God,” he added.

The bishop noted the drug abuse problem in the country, and its tragic consequences.

“The drug problem is a problem that all governments try to campaign against and systematically educate the people about. Nonetheless, it should be properly managed by considering the cause of potential effects. As well as continuous and concrete management should be done with the drug problem to prevent unexpected problems like this in the future,” he said.

Mass shootings are rare but not unheard of in Thailand, which has one of the highest civilian gun ownership rates in Asia, with 15.1 weapons per 100 people compared to only 0.3 in Singapore and 0.25 in Japan. That’s still far lower than the U.S. rate of 120.5 per 100 people, according to a 2017 survey by Australia’s nonprofit organization.

Thailand’s previous worst mass shooting involved a disgruntled soldier who opened fire in and around a mall in the northeastern city of Nakhon Ratchasima in 2020, killing 29 people and holding off security forces for some 16 hours before eventually being killed by them.

Pope Francis offered prayers for all those affected by such “unspeakable violence.”

The article incorporated material from the Associated Press.