- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 8, 2004

The sound of stifled sobs echoed throughout the main corridor of the Russian Embassy yesterday, as dozens of children and adults gathered to offer condolences for the hundreds of lives lost in last week’s terrorist attack on a school in Beslan, Russia.

Visitors silently signed a condolence book in the embassy’s dimly lit foyer, scratching notes of sorrow and sympathy into its thick pages.

Outside, where the embassy’s gate was lined with bouquets, sympathy cards and memorial candles, mourners struggled to voice their grief.

“I came over here, and I’ve written hundreds of stories over the years, and I sat there and I couldn’t move the pen,” said Ginger Weingarten, a freelance TV producer.

“I’m afraid my words are falling flat,” she said, unable to hold back tears. “My heart hurts.”

Mrs. Weingarten joined scores of other visitors who expressed horror and dismay over the Beslan massacre.

Last Wednesday, about three dozen Chechen terrorists, armed with guns and explosives, held hostage more than 1,000 parents, teachers and children in School No. 1 in Beslan. Russian special forces stormed the school on Friday after a blast, and the scene erupted in a lengthy gunbattle punctuated by explosions.

At least 350 persons were killed in the hostage crisis, about half of them children. The death toll is expected to climb as missing persons are accounted for among the dead.

“You don’t attack kids,” said Marlies Murphy, a German resident who visited the embassy yesterday. “If you do, you’re a coward.”

Three young sisters — Kelsey Reese, 13, Mollie Reese, 11 and Katie Reese, 6 — somberly signed the embassy’s condolence book, expressing their sorrow over the deaths of scores of Russian children no older than themselves.

“The hostage takers seem to put a very low value on life, including their own,” said Norman Cherkis, a retired geological oceanographer.

In signing the condolence book yesterday, Mr. Cherkis said he was hoping to return a kindness that he had received three years ago, when his former co-workers in Russia contacted him to make sure he was uninjured after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Nancy Livingston placed flowers near a neon sign inscribed with the message, “We Stand United Against Terrorism.”

“I just feel we should support everyone in their time of need,” Miss Livingston said. “During our 9/11, there was an outpouring of support, so I felt I should come here and show my support to the Russians.”

Adel Gomes, a native of Brazil, said word of the Beslan slaughter evoked instant horror and sympathy for the families there.

“The first thing I thought about were my grandchildren, and I thought if something like this happened to them, I would die,” a tearful Mrs. Gomes said.

She brought flowers to convey her sympathy, but said she felt helpless in the face of such enormity. If she could, Mrs. Gomes said, she would make the ultimate sacrifice for the children.

“I would give my life for them.”

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