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Stunned parents and students wait, then mourn schoolgirls’ slayings

March 13, 1997

BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (AP) _ Dozens of parents, chain-smoking and biting their knuckles, waited frantically to hear whether their daughters were alive. Sobbing classmates clutched each other.

And tears flowed when buses of children _ those who escaped a Jordanian soldier’s mid-morning shooting rampage _ returned to the Feirst School and the embraces of their parents. ``We’re only children. We’re only children,″ one girl sobbed, climbing off a bus.

In the entrance hall of the school, students prayed together quietly and arranged memorial candles in the shape of a ``7″ _ the number of girls who won’t be coming home from a school outing to the Jordanian border.

Six other girls were wounded before Jordanian soldiers overpowered their comrade, 22-year-old Lance Cpl. Ahmed Yousef Mustafa. It wasn’t clear whether the gunman had political motives or was mentally unstable.

``I’m scared to hear the names,″ said math teacher Miriam Gottesman. ``I see their faces flash in front of my eyes.″

The school, a public junior and senior high school for observant Jews, stopped classes at noon Thursday after news of the attack. Students went to the school synagogue, where they prayed for their classmates. Principal Moshe Yavlovich asked them to return Friday for a special program and prayers.

``The question we have to ask ourselves is, `What happened with those who have made peace with us and welcomed us in peace?′ ″ he said. ``We will talk, and let out our great sorrow.″

Dozens of parents waited at the school into the evening. Girls in long skirts clutched each other, crying. Boys kicked the walls in anger and despair. Anxious mothers shared a cellular phone, trying to reach their children at the kibbutz where survivors were initially taken.

Ester Garofy, who heard about the attack at work and rushed to the school, burst into tears after speaking to her daughter, 12-year-old Efrat, and learning she was fine.

``Ronit, it’s mom,″ said another mother, Etty Vahalani, biting her knuckles as she spoke into the phone. ``How are you? Talk to me! I’m waiting for you!″

A grim-faced Tamir Cohen, 13, said he had been on a trip last week to the place where his schoolmates were killed Thursday. ``It could have happened to us,″ he said.

``Peace is not worth anything if these kinds of things happen,″ said Anna Ostrovsky, 13. ``I am very afraid.″

``We’re not supposed to be afraid of Arabs now _ there’s peace,″ said a stunned Edan Edri, 12.

``How is it peace, when they are dead?″ asked 13-year-old Oren Alouk.

Within hours of returning home, the students, their families and classmates scattered to attend the funerals of the seven dead children.

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