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Serbians mourn mass shooting victims

by JOVANA GEC The Associated Press | May 7, 2023 at 3:33 a.m.
Orthodox priests attend a funeral for five people killed during the second mass shooting in two days, in the village of Malo Orasje, near the town of Mladenovac, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Belgrade, Serbia, Saturday, May 6, 2023. In Thursday's attack, a 20-year-old gunman apparently firing at random killed eight people and wounded 14 in two Serbian villages. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia -- Heart-wrenching cries echoed as funerals were held Saturday in Serbia for some of the victims of two mass shootings that happened just a day apart last week, leaving 17 people dead and 21 wounded, many of them children.

The shootings at a school in Belgrade and in a rural area south of the capital city have left the nation stunned with grief and disbelief.

Though Serbia is awash with weapons and no stranger to crisis situations after the wars of the 1990s, a school shooting like the one Wednesday has never happened before. The most recent previous mass shooting was in 2013 when a war veteran killed 13 people.

The shooter Wednesday was a 13-year-old boy who opened fire on his fellow students, killing seven girls, a boy and a school guard. A day later, a 20-year-old man opened fire randomly in two villages in central Serbia, killing eight people.

Classmates and hundreds of other people cried inconsolably as one of the girls killed in the school shooting was laid to rest in Belgrade in a small white coffin that was covered with heaps of flowers. Overwhelmed by grief, the girl's mother could barely stand. One girl collapsed during the service amid screams and sobbing.

While the country struggled to come to terms with what happened, authorities promised a gun crackdown and said they would boost security in schools. Thousands lit candles and left flowers near the shooting site in Belgrade in an outpouring of sadness and solidarity.

"My soul aches for them," said Vesna Kostic, who came to pay her respects outside the school Saturday. "I keep looking for a cause, a reason why this has happened to him [the shooter], why this has happened to us."

Serbian media reported that four of the eight children killed in the school shooting, as well as the Vladislav Ribnikar school guard, were buried at cemeteries in Belgrade on Saturday, the second day of a three-day mourning period for the victims.

Some 30 miles to the south, a mass funeral was held in the small village of Malo Orasje for five young men who were gunned down in a shooting rampage Thursday evening.

Sobbing mourners lined up to light candles while waiting for the coffins to be placed on five benches outside the village church for a service.

Serbian police have said the suspected shooter stopped a taxi after his rampage and made the driver take him to a village further south, where he was arrested Friday. Officers later said they found weapons and ammunition in two houses he was using there.

The suspect, identified as Uros Blazic, told prosecutors during questioning Saturday in the central town of Smederevo that he shot people he didn't personally know because he wanted to sow fear among residents, RTS state television reported. He faces charges of first-degree murder and unauthorized possession of guns and ammunition.

The motive for both shootings remained unclear.

The 13-year-old boy, who is too young to be criminally charged, has been placed in a mental clinic. His father was arrested for teaching his son to use guns and not securing his weapons well enough.

The suspected village shooter wore a pro-Nazi T-shirt, authorities said, and complained of "disparagement," though it was unclear what he meant. Serbia's populist President Aleksandar Vucic promised the "monsters" would "never see the light of day again."

Those wounded in the two shootings have been hospitalized and most have undergone complicated surgical procedures. A girl and a boy from the school shooting remain in serious condition and the village victims are stable but under constant observation.

The school shooting left six children and a teacher wounded, while 14 people were wounded in the villages of Malo Orasje and Dubona. The dead in Dubona included a young off-duty policeman and his sister.

Apart from the gun crackdown, officials have announced stepped-up monitoring of social networks and the media. Already by Saturday, several people had been questioned for posting threats or videos supporting the killers on social networks, the Tanjug news agency reported.

Serbia's education ministry outlined a crisis plan for the students of the Vladislav Ribnikar school to gradually return to classes Wednesday. A team of experts, backed by the U.N. children's agency UNICEF, will offer support and oversee the process, a ministry statement said.

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