Thousands of anguished residents of the small town of Beslan on Saturday marked the anniversary of one of Russia's deadliest terrorist attacks with white doves rising into the air, the tolling of bells and tears.
Mourners again bade farewell to hundreds of adults and children who perished in a storm of gunfire and explosions on Sept. 3, 2004, after enduring nearly three days of thirst, hunger and fear as hostages at Beslan's School No. 1.
President Vladimir Putin ordered a new investigation, acknowledging criticism of the authorities' handling of the school seizure by heavily armed militants, the botched rescue and the subsequent inquiry.
Several thousand people poured into the cemetery on the edge of town, its graves marked by stones of polished red granite. At 3 p.m., the sea of grieving people listened for nearly 30 minutes as the list of the dead was read aloud to the sound of a ticking clock. Some wept quietly; most bowed their heads.
A wave of sobbing swelled from the crowd as a white sheet was pulled off a 25-foot statue depicting four women holding up a tree of angels. White doves released into the air circled overhead.
Family members and friends gathered around graves, laying crackers and chocolates on the stones and pouring water onto the dirt as offerings for the dead. Mourners bent down and touched the earth on the graves with both hands and kissed the headstones.
"After this, what else can I believe in? What else can I see? What can I expect? I don't know what else. I've lost faith," said Sveta Beroyeva, whose 10-year-old twin grandsons, Soslan and Aslan, were killed. The ceremonies "will help some. For many, nothing will ever help."
Flags flew at half-staff in the Russian capital, where a pro-Kremlin youth group staged a memorial ceremony near Red Square.
Earlier, Putin opened the weekly meeting of his Security Council with a moment of silence. He then said investigators would be sent to Beslan to verify information he had been given at a Friday meeting with members of a mothers' committee who have demanded that negligent or corrupt officials be prosecuted.
The rebels, who were demanding that Russian troops withdraw from nearby Chechnya, crossed heavily policed territory to reach the school.
"They are disturbed by the way the investigation is being conducted, by the fact that up to this point there are no objective data on the course of the investigation of the terrorist attack, about the circumstances that allowed the terrorist attack to become possible at all," Putin said in televised comments.
At 1:05 p.m. Saturday, the time of the first explosion that announced the bloody end to the crisis a year ago, at least 4,000 people had squeezed into the courtyard outside the school gym where the victims were held. As a bell tolled, children released hundreds of white balloons.
Gunmen attacked School No. 1 on Sept. 1, 2004 -- the first day of school -- taking more than 1,100 children, parents and staff members hostage and herding them into the gym, which had been rigged with explosives. Most of the 331 hostages who died, including 186 children, were killed in the explosions and gunfire that ended the crisis.
fly over a monument dedicated to the memory of 145 adults and 186 children who perished during the school hostage taking.