`This killer is not going to do any more damage to our community'

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The Independent Online
THE AIR is heavy with the scent of flowers. Row upon row of chrysanthemums, roses, carnations and lilies crowd the aisles of Dunblane's medieval sandstone cathedral, now the focus of a nation's grief for the slaughtered children of Primary One.

Here, two nights ago, 5,000 queued in the icy rain to pay their respects in a massive, spontaneous outpouring of feeling. Here, this morning, thousands are again expected, turning the regular Sunday service into a memorial. Here, later today, the Queen and the Princess Royal will meet teachers from the school Thomas Hamilton invaded, and ambulance staff and doctors who came in the wake of his killing. And here, later this week, the funerals of six of the murdered children will take place.

Yesterday couples came and went, sitting for a few minutes staring fixedly at the bloom-laden altar or gazing abstractedly ahead, seeing nothing. The woman usually cried; the man, his arm around her, hardly ever.

Perthshire's florists called a halt to the sale of Mother's Day flowers yesterday, as they had simply run out: all flowers in the region had been bought up by people sending floral tributes to Dunblane.

The simple, even trite, messages with the bouquets still had the power to bring tears to the eyes: "From a mum in London, far in miles but close in thoughts." Alongside one floral tribute is a boy's toy articulated lorry. By a 14th-century monumental tomb of an earl and his lady, baskets of flowers. And everywhere, a sense of loss.

Outside, as those seeking solace come and go, the human spirit is struggling to reassert itself. A man in the high street chats to a neighbour about going to Glasgow for radiotherapy. In the pubs they yarn (though the conversation keeps returning to the tragedy) and play the electronic game machines. The newspaper shops are busy, but nobody seems to be buying televisions.

It is only outside the primary school site on Doune Road that the public grieving is strongly evident. Another parade of flowers, outside the gates along the footpath, is attracting well-wishers in their thousands.

This is a brisker trade. They park their cars, put down their bouquets, and pass along the floral path, cooing with amazement at the messages from Iceland and Cheam, California and Fitzwilliam, Ottawa and Warrington. A tremor of sympathy seems to have shaken the world.

Five hundred soft toys and teddy bears, sent as tributes, have already been taken into the school gymnasium where the carnage took place. Later, grieving parents and relatives will be allowed in to see where their loved ones died. A decision in principle has been taken that the gym should be levelled rather than turned into a shrine.

Today in the cathedral city ("We're more of a village really," confides a long-time resident) the Queen, who has brought forward her visit from Monday because of the imminence of the funerals, will find a community trying to come to terms with its greatest hurt.

But a determination not to be dragged down by the senseless massacre is making itself felt. Ron Taylor, Dunblane primary's headmaster, told John Major and Tony Blair on their visit: "Come back in a year, and we will show you we have beaten this."

George Robertson, shadow Scottish secretary, who lives close to the school, said yesterday that local people felt gunman Thomas Hamilton had done enough damage. "What I have heard over and over again was, `This killer has done enough killing, and he's not going to do any more damage to our local community.' It is ready to fight back and is fighting back."

The renewal is as likely to come from the children as from their parents, many of whom commute daily to work outside Dunblane. "Where you have got every child going to the same primary and secondary school, their networks are very, very tight," said Mr Robertson. "They are helping each other in a way that adults maybe cannot do."

But first there is a harrowing week of funerals for 16 children and a schoolteacher to endure, beginning tomorrow morning in the nearby village of Bridge of Allan, with a joint service for five-year-old friends Joanna Ross and Emma Crozier. In the afternoon there will be funerals for five- year-olds Abigail McLennan and Kevin Hassel in the city's St Blanes' church. The other funerals will follow during the week, ending with that of the children's teacher, Mrs Gwenne Mayor, on Thursday.

The local undertaker, John McIntyre, is dreading it. "Every single funeral I deal with affects me, but the thought of funerals for these little children breaks my heart," he said. "I know many of these children and their parents, and that makes it even harder. Undoubtedly a child's funeral is the worst thing I have to face in my job. But the pain of what has happened here multiplies that beyond belief."

There is some consolation: the most badly injured child, Amie Adam, was showing signs of "slight improvement". After a relapse she had been returned to the intensive-care unit at Glasgow's Yorkhill Hospital, but yesterday she had been taken off the critical list and returned to a general ward, where her parents were at her bedside.

The other two most seriously injured children, Ryan Liddell and Coll Austin, also being treated at Yorkhill, were also improving. Although still receiving treatment for serious gunshot wounds , Ryan was moved out of intensive care after his condition improved overnight, while Coll, critically ill with gunshot wounds and still in intensive care, has also shown signs of a "slight improvement".

At Stirling Royal Infirmary, staff confirmed that the five children and two members of staff still in their care were "continuing to improve".