The tragedy at Beslan School No. 1 in Russia is every parent’s worst nightmare. Journalists I know hardened by years of war and dead body photos couldn’t even look at the pictures of bleeding, charred children that were coming in over their computers.
There was one photo in particular where dead children were laid out in a row on a blood-stained tarp that haunted me. A mother cried over her dead daughter, whose face was still visible.
At least 340 hostages, 150 of them children, were killed in this disaster as of Saturday night, reports The Washington Post. About 700 more were wounded. With an estimated 1,200 hostages in the Russian school when the explosions and shooting began, more dead are expected to be found.
When all is said and done, it appears that the actual shooting started by accident, though stories still vary. In one account, one of the hostage-takers may have reacted to shooting by taking his foot off a pedal that was believed to be a bomb trigger.
“He let go of the pedal and tried to run away, but it blew up and killed him,” one young hostage told officials.
But it’s fairly clear the Russian commandos were caught off guard and unprepared when the final battle arrived. What’s crystal clear is that these hostage-takers have demonstrated a complete lack of conscience.
An acquaintance of mine suggested that it’s important to understand what would push people to commit such desperate acts. Although he refused to speculate on what might drive the hostage-takers to such insanity, the insinuation was that years of oppression by Russia was the underlying cause. He wasn’t arguing justification, just great enough understanding to stop this from ever happening again.
I suspect the families in Beslan don’t care a whit about understanding the gunmen’s motives. Indeed, the crowd ripped apart one of the fleeing hostage-takers; I doubt they paused for the gunman’s confessional or explanation.
And as much as I detest the oppression or brutalization of the Chechens or any other ethnic group, nothing can excuse using children as human shields. In the end, these terrorists have crossed a new line that may be repeated simply because the brutality seen in Beslan was so devastating. Indeed, the siege may become Russia’s 9/11.
And like in America, fear of another attack will be used as a tool to further erode freedoms in Russia and maybe elsewhere in the world. Already President Vladimir Putin is calling the tragedy “an attack against all of us,” reports The New York Times.
What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but none of this bodes well for a world of peace and prosperity. But I suspect a lot of parents out there are like us, thankful their children were home, healthy and safe.