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Painful Search for Beslan's Missing

BESLAN, North Ossetia -- Sofia Arsoyeva, a 15-year-old student at Beslan school No. 1, was seen by a classmate being driven away from the chaotic gunfight there on Sept. 3. Another classmate said she was in the same car as her, heading toward the nearest hospital. But since then, no one has seen Arsoyeva.

Arsoyeva is one of 105 people reported still missing after the school hostage siege, which left more than 330 dead and 350 injured, many of them children.

North Ossetian police are trying to find 105 people reported missing by relatives, Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov told reporters in Beslan on Friday.

A spokesman for the republic's Health Ministry said Sunday that the identities of 239 of the hostages killed in the siege had been established, but that 90 bodies remained unidentified.

Oleg Tsagolov, a spokesman for the North Ossetian government, said Sunday that often it had only seemed to relatives that they saw their children being rescued from the school. But most probably these hostages were caught in the explosions, their bodies now disintegrated and unidentifiable without DNA analysis, he said.

A local deputy prosecutor, Alexander Panov, has asked Beslan residents to provide blood samples to help identify these dismembered bodies, Izvestia reported Friday, citing Lev Dzugayev, spokesman for North Ossetian President Alexander Dzasokhov.

But with so many of the dead still unidentified and confusion remaining about the exact numbers of dead and injured, hopes still lingered among relatives at the town's cultural center Friday morning, where police investigators were collecting photos of the missing and making a note of any distinguishing marks.

In some desperate families, two, three or even four relatives were posted missing. Four of the Totiyevs' eight children were reported missing. Of the other four, two were found alive in hospitals, but two died at the school with their mother.

Beslan resident Albert Kundukhov was in Moscow when he learned about the raid on the school, where his mother and wife had joined his son and daughter for the first day of classes. So far, he has found only his son.

Kelekhsayev, Arsoyeva's cousin, was among the volunteers who carried wounded hostages out of the burning school on Sept. 3. He said one of his closest friends could not find his 2-year-old daughter, Kristina Goloyeva.

Identification of injured hostages rescued from the school, some unconscious and suffering from head wounds, was made more difficult by them being taken to nearby hospitals with no identifying documents or relatives with them.

Frantic relatives are clinging to the hope that the missing could be among those being treated in hospital.

Dzugayev on Friday told of two children in local hospitals suffering from shock, who were unable to say their names. Nobody visits them, he said.

In the Vladikavkaz morgue, an endless procession of relatives filed past hostages' charred bodies -- afraid to recognize loved ones, yet hoping to bury them if they had perished. In their anguish, relatives' memories sometimes failed them.

A morgue employee recalled a man who had come looking for his son's body three times, to no avail. The fourth time he came with his mother, who immediately recognized her grandson's small and blackened body by his shoes.

North Ossetia's state-run Alania television, together with Rossia's "Vesti" news program, have launched a web page (www.vesti.ru/files?did422) to help trace the missing. The site invites people looking for friends or relatives to send in names, photos and contact phone numbers. By Sunday afternoon, the site was showing 66 photographs of missing hostages, from infants to grandmothers.

(The Moscow Times 13.ix.04)

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