The cries of mourners filled the grief-stricken town of Beslan Sunday as the first dozen coffins were lowered into the ground after last week’s three-day standoff that left more than 300 dead. The Patriarch of Russia's Orthodox Church, Alexy II, asked that a mass be held in every church across the country to remember the victims of.
On Sunday it seemed everyone in Beslan, a town of 40,000 in the southern republic of North Ossetia, was walking around with photos of lost relatives or friends in their breast pockets, showing them to every person who passed by, hoping against hope to locate their loved ones. Meanwhile coffins made their steady progress under gray clouds to a field freshly dug up by excavators for dozens of new graves as Beslan began to bury the victims.
As the nation of Russia began an official period of national mourning on Monday, dozens of well-wishers in the grief-stricken town of Beslan continued to lay red carnations and plastic bottles of water at the wreckage of School Number One. The water bottles were a stark symbol of how the children were left without water or food by their captors, militants demanding independence for separatist Chechnya.
The drama, in which 1,000 people were taken hostage, ended in nightmarish scenes described by the press as the "worst possible scenario," with half-naked, bloodied children fleeing from the school and the mutilated bodies of the dead rushed out on stretchers.
The assault was triggered by a series of unexplained explosions, during which the gym roof collapsed on the hostages below, killing and maiming scores of people.
Security forces alleged the attack had been meticulously planned weeks before pupils returned to school Wednesday after the summer break, with militants having posed as builders and stashed explosives in the school.
Survivors told of the terror inside the gym, where they were forced to drink their own urine to avoid dehydration and to strip down to their underwear to cope with the stifling heat.
Casualty figures continued to swing wildly, with the official death toll from Friday's carnage standing at 335 people although a worker in the region's main morgue told AFP that it had already received 394 bodies.
Some 377 people, including 197 children under 17, remained in local medical care, 55 of them in severe condition, North Ossetia's deputy health minister Teymuraz Revazov said Monday as quoted by the Interfax news agency.
Another 27 children who were rushed to hospitals in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don over the weekend also remain in severe condition, the ITAR-TASS news agency reported quoting hospital officials.
Russian President Vladimir Putin declared two days of national mourning from Monday. All flags are to fly at half mast over government buildings and entertainment programs will be pulled off the air, the Kremlin said.