Gas clouds Moscow rescue
Since the siege's end, the hostage death toll has been rising steadily from 67 to 90 to 117.
Yelena and Sergei Bochkov are frantic. Their 25-year-old son Sergei was among the hostages held by Chechen terrorists for three days in a Moscow theater, and then freed in a dramatic rescue by Russian special forces Saturday morning.Skip to next paragraph
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But almost two days later, they can't find him.
"We have eight of Sergei's friends mobilized, going around to every hospital where the hostages are being treated, begging police to go inside and ask about him," says Ms. Bochkova. "No one has any information."
The Bochkovs were among the forlorn knots of relatives waiting in the freezing rain Sunday outside every Moscow hospital where nearly 650 freed hostages were being held "under observation" by Russian special forces.
The initial wave of relief and praise for President Vladimir Putin that swept over Moscow is now turning to suspicion and anger as the death toll of the hostages continues to rise. Breaking a news blackout Sunday evening, a Moscow health official admitted that the gas used by Russian forces killed 115 of the 117 hostages that had died. The official said that 150 people were still in intensive care.
"The number of dead given by authorities has suddenly doubled, and people are at a complete loss to understand why. Why do the authorities never seem to give us reliable information?" asks Alexander Vainshtein, a leading Moscow theater producer who has many friends among the hostages.
This latest report confirms suspicions that the world may not have been told the whole truth about the daring Russian spetznaz rescue, especially about the use of a secret "sleeping gas" that was deployed to immobilize Chechen hostage-takers.
Russian authorities announced Saturday that they had killed most of the 50 heavily armed and explosive-laden Chechen terrorists and freed about 750 of the theater goers seized Wednesday night. On Saturday afternoon, Interior Ministry spokesman Vladimir Vasilyev announced a "definitive" death toll of 67 hostages, who he said were killed by Chechens during the 40-minute melee as special forces stormed the building. The terrorists had threatened to start killing hostages Saturday morning if their demands weren't met. "We had no choice. The decision to storm the building was correct," he said.
But by Sunday evening, Andrei Seltsovsky, chairman of the health committee of the city of Moscow, admitted 117 had died from the gas. The released hostages were still being held incommunicado in Moscow hospitals, and desperate relatives were not permitted to see them. Dr. Seltsovsky said that 646 of the freed hostages were still in the hospital, 150 were in intensive care, and 45 "in a grave condition."
President Putin met with released hostages in Moscow's Sklifisovskovo Hospital on Saturday, and later declared Monday as a national day of mourning for victims of the tragedy.
"I would like to address primarily the relatives and friends of those killed: We could not save everyone," Mr. Putin said in televised remarks later. "Please forgive us."
Olga Zhabatinskaya, waiting outside the gates of Sklifisovskovo Hospital Sunday afternoon, said she just wanted some news of her mother, Tatiana, who was among the hostages. Many of the freed hostages are confined inside a wing of the hospital, guarded by special forces who have orders not to let anyone in. "We've checked everywhere, even in the morgue," says Ms. Zhabatinskaya. "We can't find out anything."