All of Dunblane has been reduced to silent processions and numb conversation, beside the banks of flowers, outside the post office, inside the laundromat, at the 13th-century cathedral that is the town's main landmark and the focus of its mourning.

Most villagers have taken their turn walking or driving up the slope of Doune Road, its signposts warning criminals of a "neighborhood watch" program, its wooded lanes and stone mansions lifeless with hidden grieving.Cheeks and eyes often red from tears, they stare at the bullet-pocked school where Dunblane's idyllic image met its bloody end. At the school gates they lay bouquets of flowers beside the thousands that are there already.

Uncomprehending children point with joy at the bouquets adorned with stuffed animals and other toys. Overwhelmed adults read the handwritten notes, many asking "Why?" One says, "God bless this sad little town."

"I can't believe it. I live next door to a massacre," says Henry Dobbin, a Dunblane resident since 1926, leaning on his cane as he surveys the scene outside his front door.

A retiree and stroke victim, Dobbin makes his way slowly to a doctor's appointment for medication - but his mind isn't on his own mortality.

"The wains (kids) who died would have come up to my knee," he says. "My wife knows two of the mothers of the dead girls. She herself is in a state of shock now and quite depressed. The lad next door to us, his mother said the gunman blasted out the windows of his classroom, covered everyone with glass, before he shot everyone in the gym. That lad's gone quite silent, too. Everyone's hurting inside."

Tom Hamilton's last act of madness did more than murder 16 kindergartners and their teacher before taking his own life.

Hamilton's bullets marked the map of Dunblane like a shotgun blast, bringing grief to a home on almost every street and confronting its 9,000-odd residents with a loss beyond explanation. Some consider the damage - to families, friends and their communal innocence - irreparable.

"This is a big family town. The victims were neighbors of a huge number of people. In that sense the wider spread of victims is hard to imagine," says Philip Gregory, who has lived in this prosperous village for 35 years. He sent his three children through the primary school.

"Some of the kids are saying, `I don't have to go back to school, do I, Mummy?' They're scared of the place. And I have an unhappy feeling that Dunblane will attract ghouls, people who come because of the horror we're now associated with," Gregory says.

Gregory found out Friday that an old friend, a childhood neighbor of his wife's, lost a grandchild to the gunman. Many of the deaths have rippled in the same way through networks of kinships and friendships.

Dobbin waves across the lane to Robert Ross, grandfather of one of the slain children, 5-year-old Joanna Ross.

"I walked with her every day to that school, every day right up to the last," Ross says to Dobbin. On Wednesday, he gave her two Life Savers mints. Now he holds a third mint in his palm - the one he had planned to give the pretty blond girl Wednesday after class.

Joanna's parents - Pamela, a banker, and Ken, an electrician - remain in their George Street home, a few doors down from another the home of another victim, 6-year-old Brett McKinnon.

"They'll never understand. I'll never understand," Ross says, staring vacantly at the road. A neighbor passing by with her own small girl in tow offers her hand, then an embrace and peck on the cheek.

Some see the attack as a consequence of a society made brutal and callous by media violence.

"The children of today need support, and they face indifference, now blind hatred," says Dawn Smith, 23, a nursery school assistant who had cared for five of the dead children.

"They were all beautiful wee things. Some of the youngest at the school who survived thought the gunfire came from Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles or superheroes. They didn't know until the end how black the real world can be."

Others cast the killings in apocalyptic terms.

"This could happen anywhere you live," says Alison Downie, who had returned to her childhood town just last month "because of all the good memories."

"I believe in God and the Bible, and where it says the end of the world is nigh. If you read your Book of Revelation, what happened here starts to make sense."

Downie, who attended the school in the 1980s, now works in Dunblane's brand-new supermarket, with the "parent with child" parking spaces up front. Psychologists came to counsel the supermarket staff Friday.

Before Wednesday's massacre, Downie says, the worst thing that ever happened in Dunblane was a car break-in. Now it is the scene of Britain's worst mass murder in modern history, made all the more reprehensible by the youth of its victims.

"Adults can defend themselves somewhat. These innocent wee wains, I can just imagine them facing the mad gunman, raising their hands up and crying in terror," says Helen Norris, the mother of a 5-year-old boy who traveled from the nearby town of Cumbernauld to offer flowers and her son's teddy bear.