Russian President Vladimir Putin promised to harshly punish those responsible for what he called criminal negligence in a fire Sunday at a Siberian mall that killed 64 people, many of them children.
The newly re-elected president made the promise Tuesday after flying to the scene of the fire in the industrial city of Kemerovo. Putin laid flowers at a memorial for the victims before chairing a meeting declaring Wednesday a national day of mourning.
Thousands of angry residents gathered in the city's main square, demanding an independent investigation and accusing authorities of attempting to conceal the entire scope of the fatal fire.
The fire occurred on the first weekend of school recess, when the mall was full children and parents.
Investigators said fire exits had been illegally blocked; the public address system had not been turned on; the fire alarm system was broken and children had been locked inside the mall's movie theaters.
After officials called off the search for victims on Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, said he was shocked by the tragedy and offered words of comfort.
"From the Embassy and the American people, I express my sincere condolences to the victims and their families, as well as to the entire Russian people. We mourn with you," Huntsman's spokesperson posted on Twitter.
U.S. Amb Huntsman: As the father of seven children, I am deeply shocked by the tragedy in #Kemerovo. From the Embassy and the American people, I express my sincere condolences to the victims and their families, as well as to the entire Russian people. We mourn with you. https://t.co/qfL2CmKe3s— Maria Olson (@USEmbRuPress) March 27, 2018