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Town of Beslan Preparing for First Anniversary of Deadly School Siege

The town of Beslan in southern Russia is preparing to mark the one-year anniversary of the deadly school siege, which lasted for three days and left more than 330 people dead, half of them children.

As a new school year gets underway in Russia, two brand-new schools are opening in Beslan to replace the shattered "School Number One", and educate its survivors.

But as Anya Ardayeva reports from Beslan, painful memories still dominate the town -- and for many of its residents, life will never be the same again.

It was supposed to be a day of celebration in Beslan -- every year on September the first, School Number One was the town's focus, opening its doors for the start of a new school year, and welcoming students, parents and teachers alike.

But September the first last year became a day of horror. Twelve months later, the school buildings are still there, shattered, deserted, a silent reminder of the tragedy that resulted in the death of 330 people, half of them children.

Svetlana Daurova recalls the events of that day, “Shortly before it all happened, I kept asking my husband -- you won't die, will you? You won't leave me?”

Svetlana still lives right next to the school building, and what used to be a family home full of people, is now a quiet apartment full of memories. “"I kept asking him that. And he kept saying, 'No, of course not, I love you very much, everything will be OK.' And then I looked at my son, and thought: 'If I lose him, I won't survive it'."

Svetlana's husband was shot by a sniper when he went to pick up his car in the garage moments after the school was taken over. He couldn't be hospitalized for several hours because the ambulance couldn't get through police cordons.

At the same time, her mother-in-law and two of Svetlana's children, 12-year-old Alyona and 2-year-old Georgik, were among those seized inside the building.

Svetlana continued her story. “On the second day, when they agreed to release some hostages, my mother-in-law wanted to pass on the little one and stay with the girl. But the gunmen said that either she went with him or stayed inside. So she stayed.”

It's still unclear exactly how the bloodbath began on September the third. According to some accounts, a large explosion rocked the school building. It was followed by a fierce gun battle between the hostage-takers and federal forces -- with hundreds of children, parents and teachers caught in the middle.

Svetlana's mother-in-law was shot as she was trying to escape from the school during the shootout. Svetlana says she still doesn't know who fired the fatal shot, the federal forces or the gunmen, since the events were completely chaotic.

“We found my son in the hospital. The doctor told me that we need to take him to Moscow immediately, and that he might not survive the trip. And I was told that his neck bones were hurt. I realized immediately that if he survived, his legs and arms might never move again. He died right after we talked with the doctor.

When they told me that my son died, I started saying: ‘Please don't tell my husband, please don't tell him, he won't be able to survive the news’, and then they told me that my husband died too. I just didn't know what to do. All three of them died, three coffins were carried. Mom, Vadik, my little one, I would not wish that on anybody.”

Svetlana says she and her daughter plan to move from Beslan soon, hoping to leave the pain behind.

She blames the authorities for the death of her loved ones, saying they failed both to prevent and manage the attack. "How would the head of the republic feel if his kids were there? Or Putin? How? Three days of waiting and then it's all over. Everyone is gone."

The memories still haunt her, memories of a happy home that were lost in the early days of September 2004 as violence erupted on the doorstep of a town living in peace.