Slain Schoolchildren Remembered in Britain


At 9:30 a.m. on its saddest Mother’s Day, a nation stopped to remember the unforgettable.

Across Britain on Sunday, one minute of national silence mourned 16 first-graders and their teacher, shot to death by a madman at gym class Wednesday morning. Here in this Scottish village, the stillness screamed.

Later, a short, straight-backed woman who is the symbol of the British state and a society prideful of its civility came to comfort Dunblane. Queen Elizabeth II, accompanied by her daughter, Princess Anne, wore a purple hat and coat, long black boots and a carefully composed mask of grief. It slipped when she met bereaved parents.

“The visibly distressed queen spoke of the collective grief and profound sympathy felt for them by the entire country,” a Buckingham Palace spokeswoman said.


The queen visited teachers and medical workers at a 700-year-old Gothic cathedral where the Rev. Colin McIntosh promised tearful worshipers that there is room for hope beyond despair--even for Dunblane, a village in shock since Thomas Hamilton walked into school with four handguns, shooting 28 children and three teachers before killing himself.

“The people of Dunblane need time to heal together and space to support each other. . . . And the chance to speak of their sadness in the way they must. Silence and space and time. These, I think, are our needs at this moment. And not an explanation,” said the canon of the dun sandstone centerpiece of this affluent village of 7,300.

Overflow mourners stood bareheaded in an icy drizzle on the green, green grass of the cathedral graveyard. They held hands. Many seemed numb. Others were angry.

“Even grown-ups don’t understand,” McIntosh told children at the service. “Our only comfort lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that our children should die, that in those fatal, frightening moments in the school gym, God’s heart was the first of all our hearts to break.”

Near the end of the service, some in the churchyard said the Lord’s Prayer with feeling; others hurled it at the gray sky.

After visiting some of the bereaved at the cathedral, the queen and princess added their remembrances to a carpet of flowers hundreds of feet long outside the grounds of Dunblane Primary School. The queen left a spray of pink and yellow flowers, Anne a bunch of snowdrops picked from her garden Sunday morning.

Flowers arrived from places as disparate as Russia, California and New Zealand, many bouquets accompanied by stuffed animals. Police officers rescued more than 500 of the toys from a wet, lingering winter, lining them up inside the school building.

On the British holiday called Mothering Day, the queen, herself the mother of four, visited the hospital in nearby Stirling where five wounded children and two teachers are recovering. The three most critically wounded children remain in a Glasgow hospital, including a 5-year-old on life support since suffering a postoperative collapse Friday.

At the hospital, the queen met 24 bereaved parents and members of slain teacher Gwen Mayor’s family, along with some of the injured children. “The 15-minute meeting was private, profound and heartfelt. The queen listened as parents described their devastating loss,” the palace spokeswoman said. “The queen said she was praying they would find the courage to endure their anguish and find the fortitude to face the future with the love and support of their families, friends and the community.”

Amid clear signs in pubs and snubs that Dunblane’s patience with a media horde is wearing thin, police announced Sunday that media coverage of funerals would be restricted to a handful of pool reporters and cameras allowed only outside churches. A police “Note to Editors” read:

“You should be aware that public feeling in the Dunblane area is now noticeably turning against the media. It is important that your representatives are aware of this and that the community is allowed to grieve with dignity and without intrusion.”

Police are legally constrained from discussing the killings or Hamilton, a loner who spent 20 years hopscotching across central Scotland establishing a network of athletic clubs for young boys. He played cat and mouse with officials who grew suspicious of him and gradually forced him out of town.

Four different police forces investigated complaints against Hamilton over the years, but no charges of any sexual misconduct were ever brought. Since being ousted as a Boy Scout leader in 1974--the complaint was incompetence, and there were no sexual overtones--Hamilton had been chased out of more than a dozen towns in central Scotland.

For Dunblane, more suffering lies immediately ahead: Sixteen funerals with tiny coffins begin today and end Thursday.

What the people of Dunblane crave most now, their leaders say, is the privacy to grieve and rebuild in their own way.

“Until the world moves back from us, we feel we can’t really get started coming together,” said Pat Greenhill, leader of the Dunblane Council.

But with grief, there is grit.

“Come back in a year and we will show you we have beaten this,” school Principal Ron Taylor promised Prime Minister John Major during his visit last week.