1. Archive

Loner's fuse lit 22 years ago // HORROR

"I thought I had seen death in all its forms, but I was wrong," gray-haired paramedic Thomas Urquhart said Thursday.

"Some of the children were lying in a circle. It looked as if they had been shot while playing a game. The way the dead teacher was lying, it looked as if she was trying to protect the children."

There is no official reconstruction of Wednesday's slaughter of kindergarteners at Dunblane Primary School. Police are not talking. And mercifully, there are no pictures. But there are indelible impressions among health professionals summoned to horror in a quiet town.

They say Thomas Hamilton began shooting before he reached the gymnasium where 29 children were gathered for an early physical-education period. He shot and wounded teachers Mary Blake and Eileen Harild in the foyer.

Inside the gym, he shot teacher Gwenne Mayor and the 5-year-old girl next to her. He shot children in a play circle.

The others ran from the madman who had come to school with four guns. Hamilton chased them, shooting at close range. He shot the last of the children in a clump at the far end of the gym, where they cowered in fear. There was nowhere else to run.

It took 10 minutes, not two as early reports indicated. By that time the children were all down, 15 of them dead, one dying, 12 others wounded.

Then Hamilton blew his own head off.

"He would have done less damage if he had stood at the door firing an automatic weapon. The close range . . . all the head wounds," John McEwan, manager of district ambulances services, said Thursday.

Dunblane grieved in a blend of anguish, anger and incomprehension Thursday. Victoria, Emma, Brett, John, Hannah, Melissa, Charlotte, Kevin, Ross, David, Mhairi, Abigal, Emily, Joanna, Sophie, Megan _ the names echoed across the village and around a nation in mourning. "A silent scream," one politician called it.

"Evil visited us yesterday, and we don't know why. We don't understand it, and I guess we never will," said Ron Taylor, principal of the 700-student public school in this upscale village of 7,300 in the center of Scotland. Of the 29 students, one boy was uninjured; he may have been protected by the bodies of two dead friends.

As a snow shower sprinkled a school besieged Thursday by battalions of photographers and reporters, the pain was too much for some.

"Have you no heart? Leave us alone!" screamed a red-headed teenager as she fought her way through a clutter of cameras to lay a bunch of flowers outside the school gates.

Friday the prime minister will visit. On Monday, the queen. All day Thursday, the flowers came.

"To give you something to hold in heaven," read a card with flowers that were accompanied by a teddy bear.

"Sleep well, baby chicks," said another.

"May God take better care of you than this world ever could," read one remembrance, from "all the people in our office who cried for you today."

There was a stuffed black and white dog with a red collar, grinning big bears, cuddly small bears, a smiling tiger.

There was a candle in a jam jar, and a message carefully printed in a child's hand: "To my friends. I had great games with you. Bye Bye, Victoria."

"We are getting a feeling for a good bit of what happened," police chief Louis Nunn said.

There is no question, though, that Hamilton came dressed to kill around 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. Laura Bryce, an 11-year-old student, says she caught a glimpse of him: "He seemed to be wearing black; big black cap, waistcoat and guns."

The 43-year-old loner ignored a challenge _ police will not say from whom _ and headed for the gym. As the firing started, Taylor dialed 999: "A madman with a gun is running amok in the school," he said. Police were at the school within six minutes; the first of 18 ambulances arrived two minutes later. It was over.

"I'll never in a million years believe what I have just seen," said McEwan, the ambulance manager, as he staggered out of the gym. He had been in charge of ambulances at the Lockerbie disaster when 270 people fell from the sky in a bombed jetliner.

"This was worse, surreal," he said. "It was like a Brueghel painting, a medieval vision of hell; pieces of 5-year-olds _ something from the Holocaust."