‘They killed children here’

THE evening light fades from the charred shell of the gymnasium at School Number 1, and Vitaly throws his hands out wide and spits out a string of profanities.

“They killed people here, not just people, children! Children! They killed children here!” said the 29-year-old, who declined to give his last name. “I have nothing but shock, shock.”

This town of 35,000 in the southern Russian region of North Ossetia was dealing with overwhelming grief for the hundreds who suffered and died during three unspeakable days of horror at the hands of armed militants.

For the many trying to understand what befell the town, there is grief and then there is anger. Over the weekend, authorities allowed Beslan’s residents into the husk that once was School No. 1 to let people see what remained.

“It’s horrific. The people who did this weren’t human beings,” said Alon Tseloyev, 30. His neighbour’s son was among as many as 1,200 other hostages.

The gymnasium was where the hostages spent more than two days - hungry, thirsty, crowded in and barely able to sit, mocked and threatened with death by the militants who hung explosives in the basketball nets.

The stench of burnt plastic hangs in the gymnasium along with that of sulphur and mildew. A blackened basketball hoop rests in the corner, the floor is littered with glass, shrapnel and wood splinters. The windows are smashed, the walls riddled with bullet holes.

The open sky above is framed by the rafters that supported a roof until Friday afternoon, when an explosion brought it down on terrified hostages.

Many of the bodies were taken to the North Ossetian capital of Vladikavkaz, where they were lined in a courtyard in body bags as relatives wandered among them, looking for loved ones.

At the school, in the middle of the gym floor, a bouquet of red carnations has been laid on a wooden chair, along with two matchbox-sized Orthodox icons as a makeshift memorial.

Underneath is a blue school notebook for Vadik Zubayev, 9th grade. Subject: Ossetian language. He didn’t live to use it again.

“I don’t know what to say, I don’t have the words to express it,” said a weeping Nadina Mourasoueva, 40. Her good friend’s two children escaped Friday’s mayhem.

Workers with masks or cloth over their noses finished removing decaying bodies from the building. Military engineers completed the search for explosives.

Next door to the gym, under spotlights, an excavator tears down adjacent brick walls and loads the debris into a dump truck.

Tseloyev stands with his arms resting on the windowsill overlooking the workers. For him, there is only one thing to do with the remains of school No. 1.

“Destroy it, raze it to the ground, and build a monument to those who died,” he said. “How could a student ever study again in a place as cursed as this?”

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