The first day of school in Russia is a traditional community celebration... mothers, fathers, grandparents and extended families--the entire community goes to the school house to honor the children who are dressed in their finest clothing. A send-off of music, food, prayers and laughter is the order of the day.
So it was at School No. 1 late last week.
Today the wail of bottomless grief could be heard throughout Beslan, a town of almost 40,000 souls in the southern republic of North Ossetia, approximately 60 miles from Russia's border with Georgia.
One hundred and 20 funerals were schedule for today... the first of two days of national mourning.
Approximately 350 bodies have been retrieved; more than half children, even infants. Two hundred remain missing. More than 700 people needed medical help after the crisis, 386 remained hospitalized on Monday-- 184 of them children. Close to 100 remain in severe condition.
Some families lost all their children. Some lost their children and their grandchildren. Sets of twins were shot to death or disembowled by shrapnel. Mothers and children died together; some men lost their wife and all their children as terrorist explosives atomized them or crushed them under falling debris.
The attack on the children by terrorists was specific as to day, time and target. The murderers took complete advantage of a community preparing for celebration.
The killers wore NATO-issued camouflage, carried gas masks, first-aid kits and communicated with handheld radios. They even brought two well-trained sentry dogs. Indications of detailed planning, including surveillance and possibly rehearsals.
It is suspected that during a recon rehearsal, the attackers hid a cache of weapons and equipment under the floor of the school gymnasium during a just completed renovation.
The final horror occurred Sunday when a bomb strapped to a basketball goal fell and exploded on impact, killing scores of children and adults standing or laying below on the gym floor. Russian forces responding by blowing a hole in the wall through which most of the survivors ran for their lives. As they fled, adults and children were cut down by terrorists' small arms fire.
Children were used as human shields and died in the fusillade.
There were further explosions inside the school; the roof of the gym collapsed. A furious firefight between the attackers and the Russians... military, law enforcement and armed citizens, continued until all resistance ceased.
One of the 32 Beslan butchers survived and was captured. "I swear by Allah I did not shoot, I swear I did not shoot," he said. I swear by Allah I want to live. I swear by Allah, I did feel sorry for them. I have got children too."
The remains of 30 murderers were recovered, one body was destroyed by a blast. The attackers were of various nationalities, including Chechens, Kazakhs, Tartars, and Koreans, the ministry said. Previous reports indicated some of the dead were Arabs, Slavs, Kazakhs, and Ingush.
President Putin said, "We failed to react appropriately and, instead, displayed weakness. And the weak are always beaten."
And the weakest of all died in great numbers.
Tiny shoes lay amid the blackened ruins, mangled clothing was strewn about the killing ground. Celebratory rose petals rested in pools of blood in the triage areas.
Meanwhile, America seemed transfixed by a wind storm, a three-day holiday and a middle-aged man's by-pass surgery.