Distraught families in Thailand have been mourning the deaths of 36 people – including dozens of nursery school children – murdered by a sacked police officer in the country’s worst-ever mass killing.

At least 24 of the 36 people shot or stabbed to death in the small northeastern town of Uthai Sawan were children.

On Friday morning, royal and government representatives queued to lay wreaths at ceremonial tables in front of the Young Children’s Development Centre’s main door.

Family members of those killed followed and could be seen gathering their hands in prayer before laying white flowers on the wooden floor.

“I cried until I had no more tears coming out of my eyes,” said Seksan Sriraj, 28, whose pregnant wife was a teacher at the centre and was due to give birth this month.

“They are running through my heart.

“My wife and my child have gone to a peaceful place. I am alive and will have to live. If I can’t go on, my wife and my child will be worried about me, and they won’t be reborn in the next life. That’s about it.”

Thailand‘s King Maha Vajiralongkorn and Queen Suthida were expected to visit two hospitals treating the wounded, and Prime Minster Prayuth Chan-ocha was due to visit the nursery and the hospitals. A vigil was also planned in a central Bangkok park.

The gunman was identified as Panya Kamrap, 34, a former police sergeant fired earlier this year because of a drug charge involving methamphetamine and who had been due to appear in court on Friday.

Asked whether he thought the nursery was secure enough, Mr Seksan pointed out the attacker had been a police officer.

“He came to do what he had in his mind and was determined to do it,” he said.

“I think everyone did the best they could.”

Police suggested the gunman likely targeted the centre because it was near his home.

Witnesses said the attacker got out of a car and shot a man and child in front of the building before walking toward the classroom.

Teachers locked the glass front door to the centre, but the gunman shot and kicked his way through it.

The children, mainly two and three-year-olds, had been taking an afternoon nap. Police said Panya took his own life after killing his wife and child at home.