More than 500 children, teachers and parents gathered at Beslan's School No. 1 in southern Russia to mark the first anniversary of Russia's worst terrorist attack, which claimed 331 lives.
A bell was rung just after 9 a.m. by Dmitry Kozak, President Vladimir Putin's representative for the region that includes Beslan, in North Ossetia. Locals filed through the shattered school to lay flowers and light candles in the gym where 32 terrorists demanding an end to the war in Chechnya held about 1,200 hostages.
The sports hall was lined with pictures of the dead, most of whom were killed after Russian commandos stormed the school to end the siege on Sept. 3.
"Beslan is like a dead town, you don't see children playing in the courtyards anymore," said Anna Totrova, 50, whose 11-year-old daughter Marina was killed in last year's raid, reports Bloomberg.
The assault - which began a year ago Thursday and lasted three days - by masked, heavily armed guerrillas stunned Russia and prompted President Vladimir Putin to make sweeping political changes. Across the country, schools started their usually festive opening day ceremonies with a moment of silence, reminds Guardian.
When the former principal of School No. 1, Lidia Tsaliyeva, tried to enter the school Thursday morning, some in the crowd shouted ``Murderer!'' and moved toward her menacingly. Police and security guards surrounded her and spirited her away, fearing violence from people who remain convinced that she somehow cooperated with the hostage-takers - an accusation she vehemently denies.
For some of the young victims, it was time to move beyond the grief that has hung over the town for the past year.
"Yes it's difficult to remember, but I can also put it out of my mind if I want," said 16-year-old Akhshar Tebiyev, who had been held hostage along with two sisters, who survived, and a cousin, who didn't.
"I'm definitely looking forward to school starting."