A national mourning in Russia concluded Monday but the cries have not stopped as the nation grieves for the more than 350 victims of last week's terrorist school seizure. Meanwhile, desperate families search for the missing in grief-stricken Beslan as the death toll continues to climb, reaching towards 400.
Dozens of coffins made their way through the grief-stricken town as Russia buried its children on a day of mourning for the hundreds who died in the Beslan school crisis.
Townspeople crowded around the coffins of children, parents, grandparents and teachers ahead of the 120 burials scheduled in the town cemetery and adjoining fields. Most people in Beslan had a relative, friend or neighbor killed or wounded.
Drizzle fell as soldiers dug and tractors plowed into the muddy ground to make room for 160 new graves in a makeshift cemetery roughly the size of a football field. Thousands watched in tears and hysterical cries as the coffins were lowered into the earth.
Aleksij II, Orthodox Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia, expressed his condolences to the people of Ossetia for the school tragedy in Beslan calling on all Russians to support one another with courage and wisdom?E according to Italy-based AsiaNews.
In a telegram to Alexander Dzasokhov, North Ossetia's President, the Patriarch expressed his sadness and urged "all levels of government and all citizens to prevent the repeat of such tragedies" because "the future of the country depend on such efforts."
Aleksij II also sent a letter to President Putin in which he expressed his anguish over the school victims and praised the acts of heroism of the local population. As he has done in recent days, the Patriarch again condemned terrorism in no uncertain terms. For him it is something "diabolic."
Here are the main excerpts from his message:
"The unprecedented cruelty shown by these criminals--kidnappers of peaceful citizens, women and children--in the school, in Beslan, has shaken the whole world community. Having taken off its mask, terrorism has shown its diabolic face.
"Without respect for what is sacred, without fear of God, without any shame before the people, these so-called 'freedom fighters' can raise hands reddened by the innocent blood of children.
"There is no and there never shall be any justification for such mad deeds.
"I know Mr. President how much you, the members of the Russian government and other decision-makers have done to save human life. Those people offering themselves in exchange for the hostages are heroes and their action is proof that self-sacrificing love exists.
"The last few days were full of hard work and hope, but, in the end, the terrorist action could not avoid victimizing so many people.
"The Russian Orthodox Church is in deep mourning for what happened and prays that the dead may now be at peace in heaven. At the same time, she prays that the wounded and injured heal and recover. May God Almighty give them strength and console them. Our duty--in particular that of the authorities--is to do all in our power to ease their pain."(AF)
According to the latest reports, 186 children remain unaccounted for and more than 700 people are in need of medical help after the crisis. Sources say 411 remain hospitalized, 214 of them children.
The official death toll stood at 335 Monday, plus the 30 attackers, although AFP estimated the actual value to be closer to 400. The regional health ministry said 156 of the dead were children. Meanwhile, 207 other bodies have yet to been identified.
Monday was the first of two days of national mourning, which was President Putin declared following the crisis. All flags are to continue to fly at half-mast over government buildings and entertainment programs off the air during the remaining time of national mourning.