One year after a lone gunman murdered 16 children in a Scottish primary school, a grieving Dunblane marked "the massacre of the innocents" Thursday with candles, prayers and a plea to be left alone.
Dunblane Primary School opened 90 minutes late at 10:30 am, so parents could have their children home at the exact moment when the gunman Thomas Hamilton burst into the school gymnasium just after 9:30 pm.
In a brief rampage, Hamilton, a resentful loner and suspected pedophile, slaughtered 16 children and their teacher, and injured 12 other children and two teachers. He then killed himself.
"The shooting of the five- and six-year-olds stunned Britain, where even police on the beat carry no guns.
"We don't particularly wish to mark Thursday (the) 13th in any particular way," headmaster Ron Taylor said in a pre-recorded interview aired by Sky Television.
"We deal with it every day. We return to the site every day. So do the children and so do the staff."
The school and the families of the victims have asked to be left in peace on the anniversary. Scottish police have all but commanded the media to stay away and let the relatives grieve.
"Allow them to pay their respects in private. You will appreciate that this is a very difficult and traumatic time for all concerned," Central Scotland Police said in a statement.
Parents asked people in this town of 10,000 -- and others, if they wished -- to place a lighted candle in the front window of their homes in the evening to mark the anniversary.
Gordon Jeyes, education chief for the area, asked sympathizers not to leave flowers at the school gates "because we are trying make the day as routine as possible for the children."
Police guarded the entrance to the 700-pupil school as the children arrived.
Since the shooting, most of the parents have met weekly in a church hall here and become close to one another.
The town has also become divided. Critics say some of the parents won't let Dunblane move on. Tourists stay away, and some local leaders fear the town will be forever known as a massacre site.
The parents laid their wreaths where the gym used to be. The site is now a memorial garden.
Headermaster Taylor, among the first to arrive at the scene of the slaughter, said the children had been resilient during the past year.
"They are more reflective than I anticipated but also more egocentric," Taylor said. "They want to get on with their own lives ... But it will never be the same again."
Pope John Paul sent a message of sympathy, and the school displayed hundreds of cards that arrived in the days before the anniversary.
"I don't want to make an issue of it (the anniversary)," said Joe Austin whose son Coll, 6, was the most seriously injured child.
"Kids don't mark time the way adults do. It does not hold any significance for them unless they see adults making an issue of it."
Coll, shot four times, is back at school. He is blind in one eye and has damaged hearing.
Charlie Clydesdale, whose daughter Victoria died in the massacre, said he hoped to visit the school at the hour Hamilton struck, and lay down one red rose.
"Most families are trying to make it as normal a day as possible," said Karen Scott, who lost her daughter, Hannah.
"The pain does not, and probably will not, go away," said her husband, David. "We as a family will to go the cathedral. We may go to the cemetery."
The Chronicle-Herald and The Mail Star
Halifax, Nova Scotia (Canada): 14 March 1997