Parents in Beslan, a quiet, provincial town in North Ossetia, not far from Chechnya, were busy in the early morning of September 1, 2004, preparing for the festive opening day of school. They were helping their children dress, boys in freshly ironed white shirts and girls in new dresses with white bows in their hair. Parents and students then walked together to School Number 1, a two-story brick building near the center of town. Bouquets of flowers, flags, and balloons provided colorful decoration for the occasion. Just as the program began, popping noises were heard, and several adults testified later that they thought the sounds came from balloons bursting.