Britain in shock over child massacre

By SIMONA de LOGU  |  March 13, 1996
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LONDON, March 13 -- The massacre of schoolchildren in central Scotland stunned Britain Wednesday, with Queen Elizabeth II saying she shared 'the grief and horror of the whole country' and Prime Minister John Major describing it as a 'mad and evil act.' The massacre occurred when a lone gunman wielding four pistols walked into a primary school gymnasium in the small town of Dunblane and opened fire, killing 16 children and their teacher and wounding 15 other youngsters and adults before turning the gun on himself. The incident renewed concern about security at Britain's schools. In December the headmaster of a London school was stabbed to death by a youngster just outside the school gates when he tried to break up a fight. Two years ago a girl was stabbed to death and two other pupils were injured as they sat in a math class at a school in Middlesbrough in northeast England. The same year a man with a homemade flame thrower burst into a classroom on the outskirts of Belfast, Northern Ireland, and burned six children, three of them seriously. Parents and local residents in Dunblane rushed to the school seeking news of their children. While police cordoned off the area, neighbors opened their doors to welcome and comfort distressed parents. Leslie Dunn, 56, who has a daughter, 16, and a son, 14, at Dunblane High School, expressed his shock at the shooting. 'I am absolutely devastated,' Dunn said. 'I am bound to know someone who has children at the primary school.

Nothing surprises you nowadays, but you wouldn't expect it to happen in a quiet place like this. It's an absolute shock.' Dunn said Dunblane was a very close-knit community of some 7,000-8, 000 people, and most of the families knew each other. Scottish Secretary Michael Forsyth canceled his engagements and flew to the scene of the massacre, while Prime Minister John Major, attending a terrorism conference in Egypt, expressed sorrow at the attack. 'I am shocked and horrified by the appalling news of this tragic and murderous event in Dunblane this morning,' he said. 'No words can express the shock and sorrow brought about by this mad and evil act. It is beyond belief that so many young lives can have been so brutally ended in this way.' Queen Elizabeth II issued a statement expressing her sympathies. 'I am deeply shocked by the appalling news from Dunblane,' she said. 'In asking you to pass on my deepest and heartfelt sympathy to the families of all those who were killed or injured, and the injured themselves, I am sure I share in the grief and horror of the whole country.' Opposition Labour Party leader Tony Blair said words could not describe the 'depth of the tragedy, the horror that people feel.' Other members of Parliament expressed their shock in the House of Commons. 'Violating the sanctity of a primary one classroom really highlights the horror of this event and prompts the question: 'Is there really nowhere that is sacrosanct?'' said Liberal Democrat Archie Kirkwood after a statement to Parliament by Tony Newton, leader of the House of Commons. A spokeswoman for the National Union of Teachers said school security was clearly an issue, but even the tightest security could not protect against determined assailants. 'It (Dunblane) is a unique incident,' she said. 'It would be wrong to suggest that parents should worry about school security. We don't want to turn our schools into fortresses. They have to be welcoming to pupils and parents.' The spokeswoman said close-circuit television and a single controlled entrance in schools could prevent some intruders and protect schools better from theft, arson and vandalism, but 'determined intruders' like the one in Dunblane could probably not be stopped. 'We've all got to be a lot more security conscious because we do find that there is a very common problem of intruders coming to school premises and we've got to do everything we possibly can to stop those intruders at the earliest possible moment,' Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, told Sky News. Many local Dunblane residents were too devastated to say much. 'My little sister is at the school and my mother has gone to try and see her, I don't want to say anything else,' said a teen-age boy in a rush to get off the phone. The receptionist at Dunblane's high school expressed sadness over the shooting. 'The mood here is what you would expect, great sadness,' she said. 'There is nothing else to say.'

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