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A Gruesome Tour Inside School No. 1

Like others wandering the building, Begayev struggled to find an outlet for his anger. "We saw the bodies of the bastards in the street," he said of the guerrillas. "When one of them was lifted up, his head fell apart. One man took a glove, put on the glove, picked up the head and smashed it against a truck. You can see hatred in people's faces."

Other young men prodded the rubble, seeking signs of continuing danger. The guerrillas had booby-trapped the school with bombs that Russian sappers had sought to destroy. In a second-floor math room, where an abacus lay on the floor among other debris, three young men studied a bag of soil and wondered whether it contained leftover explosives.

Holding her child, a woman who once attended School No. 1 surveys the ruins of the gym where almost 1,200 people were taken hostage. (Sergey Ponomarev -- AP)

_____Hostage Standoff Ends_____
Photo Gallery: The hostage standoff at a school near Chechnya turned tragic with hundreds of children and adults killed or injured during fighting.
_____More From The Post_____
Russia Admits It Lied On Crisis (The Washington Post, Sep 6, 2004)

They concluded that it did not, and made their way through the broken glass and smashed furniture toward the door. Along the way, one of them found a stuffed Grandfather Frost, the Russian version of Santa Claus, picked it out of the dirt and propped it up on desk.

Schools since the Soviet era have offered military education, but until the siege, ordnance was mainly an academic subject. On the floor in a corridor lay a poster showing how to assemble an ignition device for a hand grenade. Nearby, a door was blown off its hinges. A sign read, "Weapons Storage Room."

Figuring out where the guerrillas' quite ample weapon supply had been stored was a goal for many people combing the school. Authorities had suggested that the guerrillas had stashed guns, bombs and rocket launchers in hiding places in the school long before the raid last Wednesday. Many residents assumed it was done by Chechen or Ingush workers during a renovation of the school over the summer.

In the school theater, young men studied a hole underneath the stage revealing a crawl space where weapons may have been stored. "Is this where they had the guns?" one young man asked as he peered into the space.

"Why did they decide to do that damn renovation?" a woman shouted elsewhere in the building. "We could have lived without it for ages."

But the renovation may be a red herring. Khablieva, who lived near the school, said it amounted to not much more than a fresh coat of paint applied by the teachers themselves.

Khablieva was pitching in Sunday, scouring the shell of the building for school papers and teacher files that might be saved. She and a friend, Zalina Dzhibilova, 54, wrapped what they found in a curtain outside the school director's office. The school, they expect, will be torn down and replaced with a memorial.

"All of Beslan is crying now," Dzhibilova said. "We don't want a school here anymore. How can we ever look at this again?"

The most painful part to look at was the gym, where most of the 1,200 hostages were forced to sit next to each other for 52 hours, sweltering in the late-summer heat, deprived of food, water and medicine and wondering if they would die. The gym was large enough for a basketball court, but on first impression it hardly seemed able to hold so many people.

Left after the conflagration were ashes, shredded walls, blown-out windows and ventilation pipes falling down. Five charred rafters were all that remained of the roof. A hole had been blown in the brick wall just below one of the eight giant windows, apparently an escape route for children who survived an initial explosion that killed many of their schoolmates.

As the hours passed on Sunday, the gym was turned into a makeshift memorial. Flowers were placed on the blackened rubble of the window sills, always in even numbers in keeping with Russian death traditions. Two chairs were set up in the middle of the gym for more flowers, as well as cookies and water bottles, another custom intended to lure animals and birds to eat in memory of the dead.

Also displayed on the chairs were two sets of burned keys, a 5-ruble coin, three icons and a new school notebook. In neat Cyrillic, a ninth-grader, Vadim Dzobat, had scribbled his name. At the foot of the chairs was a tiny white shoe that may have been worn by a 3-year-old.

No one left unmoved. "I just wanted to see where the kids were and how it was," Slavik Torchinov, 40, a bus driver, said as he walked by. "I just pray to God no one ever has to see something like this again."

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