Scotland Struggles to Cope After Attack on Children


'RARE, random, and unpredictable.'' These were the words used by an expert interviewed on BBC Radio. ''Hell'' was the word used by the headmaster of Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, Ron Taylor, much praised for his handling of the nightmare disaster.

''This is a close-knit community,'' said Colin Mackintosh, minister of the cathedral in the normally quiescent Scottish city, ''and yet it happened here.''

A day-and-a-half after a lone gunman in 10 minutes shot dead 16 Dunblane Primary School children and their teacher, and injured 12 of the other 13 five-to-six-year-olds during an early morning gym lesson, the outrage and shock have hardly calmed. But the analysis, and the questioning, are rampant.

Foremost, perhaps, is the feeling that this comparative backwater simply deserved no such happening.

The questions are many:

Is society somehow to blame for this terrible event?

What could have been done to prevent Thomas Hamilton, the gunman, from possessing the firearms he used? Are Britain's gun-licensing laws - generally considered stringent - stringent enough?

Teachers are asking questions about open-door policies in state schools in Britain. After an English headmaster was stabbed recently while attempting to protect one of his pupils from a gang, more rigorous measures have been taken against knives in schools here. But most schools can be walked into without challenge.

How is it that Hamilton, described variously as weird, odd, and peculiar, could have been known to so many people in positions of authority - to social workers and politicians - and still be allowed to perpetrate such an act?

Hamilton was no unknown figure locally. Even Michael Forsyth, Scottish Secretary (the British government's representative in Scotland) and the opposition Labour Party's George Robertson, the shadow Scottish Secretary, knew about Hamilton.

Mr. Forsyth had received a number of letters from Hamilton airing grievances.

The Boy Scouts movement expelled Hamilton in 1974 for being disorganized and for exposing boys to extreme cold during an outing. Yet he persisted in running a boys' club right up to the massacre and successfully appealed a decision by local authorities to stop him from using the Dunblane High School as a meeting place for his group in 1984.

Only last week, he wrote to Queen Elizabeth II, the scouts' patron, complaining that the scouts were trying to sully his reputation.

''He was a deep, cautious kind of man. He kept well into himself,'' neighbor Grace Ogilvie told reporters.

A gun club rejected Hamilton for membership just a few weeks ago. The police say they have established ''a motive'' for the murders, although they have so far refused to voice their conclusions.

Forsyth and Mr. Robertson headed rapidly for Dunblane after news of the killings, with all thought of their political differences swamped by their shared compassion.

A surgeon in the hospital to which many of the injured children have been taken has voiced astounded admiration for the children themselves and their parents. ''It has been an eye-opening experience for me,'' Hamish Finlay of the Stirling Royal Infirmary said to national TV cameras.

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