Serbia marks first anniversary of mass shooting at Belgrade school with flowers, candles, and silence

Hundreds of people laid down flowers and lit candles on Friday to commemorate the victims of Serbia’s first ever school shooting a year ago that left nine children and a school guard dead and six people wounded. A somber, silent queue formed on a rainy day outside the school in central Belgrade where a 13-year-old boy is accused of opening fire at his schoolmates with his father’s guns last year. The shooting stunned Serbia. Belgrade was no stranger to violent crime, but mass shootings are rare, and none had taken place at a school before. Just a day later, a shooting rampage outside the capital further shocked the country. A 20-year-old man was accused of killing nine and wounding 12 others, mostly young people. Friday’s vigil formally started at 8:41 a.m., the time of the school shooting last year. Serbian television stations interrupted their broadcasts, showing the text “We remember” on a black screen. The all-day event near the school also included art installations, a panel discussion and short films about the victims. The street where the school is located is closed to traffic. The event was titled “Awakening,” a call for introspection in a nation that is yet to come to terms with its role in multiple wars in the 1990s and the culture of violence that has prevailed ever since. Ninela Radicevic, a mother of a victim, told The Associated Press ahead of the anniversary that society and the government had “rushed to forget” the tragedy. Radicevic, who lost her 11-year-old daughter Ana Bozovic in the shooting, said she hoped Serbia can prevent such a horrific crime from happening again. “We have missed many chances to react better… (but) I think it is never too late to pause … and to try not to make the same mistakes in the future,” said psychology professor Aleksandar Baucal, who is part of a team behind the commemoration. The slain children’s parents have fought to have the school closed and turned into a memorial center. They’ve organized protests, remembrance events and testified about their ordeal to promote awareness among the public. Serbia’s populist government launched a gun amnesty after the shooting, collecting about 80,000 weapons and rounds of ammunition. State-backed support teams offered counseling and police officers were deployed outside schools for security. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram after paying respects Friday that the “unthinkable tragedy has left a permanent scar on the soul of our entire nation.” Suspects in both of the shootings were apprehended. The alleged school shooter’s parents went on trial in January, charged with teaching their underage son to shoot and with not securing the weapons at the family home. The trial is continuing. The boy has been held in an institution since the attack. The trial of the other suspect and his father is to start later this month in the central town of Smederevo. Shock and anger because of the shootings triggered months of street protests demanding the resignations of top officials and a ban on media that spew hate speech and intolerance.

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