Baptist families are among the thousands grieving in Beslan, Russia, site of last week's school massacre.
According to news reports, many people in Russia had never heard of the peaceful industrial city in south Russia before armed militants seized Middle School No. 1 and held hundreds hostage for 62 hours, demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. The crisis ended in violence Friday, with confirmed deaths fluctuating at about 335, roughly 1 percent of the town's population of 34,000. With some 260 people still missing, officials feared the death toll could reach 600.
Baptist Pastor Sergei Totijev and his brother, Taimuras, a church elder, reportedly had a total of 10 children held hostage between them. Two of the pastor's five children survived with injuries, while four of his brother's five children were missing and feared dead, said Paul Montacute, director of Baptist World Aid.
Montacute spoke Monday with Yevgenily Zhigulin of Mission Vera, one of the Baptist World Alliance's partners in the region. Another Baptist family also lost one child, he said.
On Saturday, ASSIST News Service reported that Pastor Totijev's 8-year-old daughter, Anya, was killed. Her brother, Azum, was being treated in a hospital where doctors were trying to save vision in both his eyes. Their cousin, Madina, had left the hospital but was reported to be in shock and not speaking.
Earlier reports listed the number of Totijev children involved at eight. Montacute attributed the conflicting accounts to the confusion that exists, and said it will likely be some time before the whole story in known.
Yuri Sipko, president of the Evangelical Christian-Baptists of Russia, journeyed to Beslan and watched as bodies were pulled from debris. Many adults and children will be impossible to identify, he said, complicating the task of accounting for the missing. Many children were sent to a larger hospital in Vladikavkaz, but family members were sealed off and unable to travel to look for survivors, according to ASSIST.
Baptist World Aid, the BWA's relief and development arm, is sending $2,500 to Mission Vera to support counseling and physical needs in Beslan, Montacute said. Mission Vera has been active in the region a number of years, working with BWAid and Hungarian Baptist Aid to help the needy in Chechnya and Chechens in neighboring countries.
BWAid will channel further donations to its "Beslan Appeal" to Mission Vera and other Baptist groups, Montacute said.
Russian officials are being criticized for underestimating the seriousness of the hostage crisis, which apparently had been planned for months. The 32-member militant group responsible for the siege included both Chechen separatists and Arab fighters, according to reports.
Stunned survivors buried 120 victims on Monday, the first of two days of national mourning in Russia, which has seen more than 400 people killed in violence linked to terrorism in the past two weeks.
The school seizure came a day after a suicide bombing killed 10 people in Moscow and more than a week after two Russian passenger planes exploded and crashed, killing 90 people—attacks linked to Russia's war in Chechnya.
In addition to Beslan, BWAid is also collecting funds for hurricane relief by Baptist groups in Cuba, the Bahamas, Florida and elsewhere. BWAid has committed an initial $5,000 to relief work in the Bahamas, and urges Baptists to respond to requests for help for relief efforts underway in the aftermath of Hurricane Frances and Hurricane Charley.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Click here for information on how to donate to Baptist World Aid. Donations for the Russian school tragedy should be made to "Beslan Appeal." Gifts for hurricane relief should be made to "BWAid Hurricane Relief."