Flowers, candles and silence as Serbia marks anniversary of school shooting

Hundreds of people have laid flowers and lit candles 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 sombre, silent queue formed on a rainy day outside the Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary 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. The Balkan nation was no stranger to violent crime, but mass shootings are rare, and one had not 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 8.41am, 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 AP ahead of the anniversary that society and the government had “rushed to forget” the tragedy.

Ms Radicevic, who lost her 11-year-old daughter Ana Bozovic in the shooting, said Serbia should have paused to see how such a horrific crime could have happened.

The dead children’s parents have fought to have the school closed and turned into a memorial centre. They have organised protests, remembrance events and testified about their ordeal to promote awareness among the public.

Serbia’s populist government launched a gun crackdown after the shooting, collecting about 80,000 weapons and rounds of ammunition. State-backed support teams offered counselling and police officers were deployed outside schools for security.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said on Instagram after paying respects on 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 gunman’s parents went on trial, charged with teaching their underage son to shoot and with not securing the weapons at the family home. The boy has been held in an institution since the attack.

The trial of the other suspect and his father is to start later in May 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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