Battle in Beslan

September 04, 2004

The siege of a school here in southern Russia ended today in panic, violence and death 52 hours after it began. At least [340] people — most of them students, teachers and parents — died, according to official reports and witnesses, after two large explosions sparked pitched battles between the heavily armed hostage-takers and Russian forces.

Does anyone know why we haven't heard more about this massacre on mainstream TV news? I've been following it some online for the past few days but don't recall ever hearing about it on TV. Now that the seige is over, I see that it is getting quite a bit of coverage, but I didn't notice any while the standoff was taking place (granted, I've been incredibly busy this week and haven't watched much TV, but still, it seems odd).

"Taking advantage of the panic, hostages began to escape," Lev Dzugayev, a spokesman for North Ossetia's president, said in an interview, referring to the initial blasts. "The bandits began shooting them in the back. The special forces on our side had to cover the fleeing hostages. This is unfortunately how it happened."

Scores of hostages survived, staggering from the school even as intense gunfire sputtered and grenades exploded around them. Many were barely dressed, their faces strained with fear and exhaustion, their bodies bloodied by shrapnel and gunshots. Many others never got out. Their bodies lay in the charred wreckage of Middle School No. 1's gymnasium, the roof of which had collapsed and burned, a police officer said.

Men and women filed through lifting the sheets that covered the dead, which included children and Russian soldiers or security officers. Recognition brought wrenching, piercing wails. A mother in a red-and-white blouse knelt on the ground, weeping as she kissed her dead daughter's face.

What a horrible, horrible scene. At least 155 children dead. I don't know what took over, but when I saw the picture on the front page of this article, where the mother is looking down at her dead child, I just wept.

It reminded me of when I was watching the Colombine incident take place. I was sitting in my room in my first college apartment with my back to the TV. I was working on my computer when I heard the channel switch to someone commentating on the events unfolding at the school. I sat there watching and wondering what the hell these kids could be thinking and how their problems could manifest themselves in such an ugly, final way. This marked the first time that I had actually cried while watching some real event on TV. It just struck me like a brick, the sadness and curiosity of it all. In my personal relationships I empathize with others as naturally as I breathe, but never before had some remote, intangible event caught my attention or my heart in such a way. I don't know, this incident in Russia worked pretty well to evoke the same reaction from me.

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