BESLAN, Russia – Children returned to classes in this grief-stricken southern Russian town Wednesday for the first time since heavily armed militants seized more than 1,200 hostages at a school two weeks ago in a siege that killed more than 330 people.
A top prosecutor, meanwhile, questioned the role of police and security agencies in the Sept. 1-3 standoff, suggesting that investigators were looking closely at what the agencies did before and during the hostage seizure.
Students and teachers began with a minute of silence, and officials said the town's seven schools would have a shortened day of classes.
Russian television showed children being met by school officials, along with armed law enforcement officers in camouflage. A full schedule of classes was scheduled for Thursday, but teachers said many parents were keeping students away.
Children from the nearly destroyed School No. 1, along with their families, have been granted visits to sanatoriums in the Black Sea resort of Sochi and other locations.
Zarema Burgalova, an education official in the North Ossetia (search) region where Beslan is located, told the ITAR-Tass news agency that many students suffering from shock and stress were not expected to show up for classes.
"I was scared during the terrorist act at School No. 1," said Kaitar Koloyev, a fourth-grader from one of Beslan's other schools. "My friends were scared, too, but I tried to calm them, asking them to not be afraid and telling them that everything will be all right."
Classes had been scheduled to start in Beslan (search) on Tuesday, but authorities decided to put off the opening so that military and police could continue searching schools for weapons or explosives.
"We have mixed feelings. We are afraid, but it's necessary to start school and we hope that things will turn for the better," said parent Mila Kiyanova.
"Our little Beslan is a very friendly town. We all know each other and in no way will terrorism break us," said Lyubov Vaniyeva, a teacher at School No. 6.
Soslan Sikoyev, acting regional interior minister for North Ossetia, said authorities were taking extra security measures, including daily armed patrols of schools. There was also a proposal to have regular inspections at schools and kindergartens.
At least 338 people were killed — nearly half of them children — when the standoff ended in explosions and gunfire. Authorities say all the hostage-takers were killed, except one suspected attacker who was detained.
Soslan Sikoyev, acting regional interior minister for North Ossetia, said authorities were taking extra security measures, including daily armed patrols of schools. There was also a proposal to have regular inspections.
Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov said investigators were trying to figure out how the militants were able to take over the school so easily.
"When such a terrible thing happens, professionalism is of primary importance. Why was it allowed to happen?" Kolesnikov asked, speaking at a meeting with North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov (search). "A full-scale investigation ... will be conducted to assess the activities of the leaders of power structures ... to find out why they let it happen and secondly, how they reacted under the circumstances."