China takes a chilling look at security inside its schools

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BEIJING -- The attacker's first young target, a girl with a pink backpack, falls at the school gates as she tries to race away. She gets up, but stumbles again inside the gates as the man slashes at her with a meat cleaver. Two minutes later, dozens of students race out of the gates as the man rampages through the school, eventually wounding 23 children.

Perhaps most shocking is what the video of the attack 10 days ago shows about the school's first line of defense: several children waving broomsticks try to block the man's progress. Several minutes later, local adults who ran into the building, also wielding brooms, chase the man from the school.

Such details were not in the immediate coverage of the attack, at the Chenpeng Village Primary School in Guangshan County, Henan province, and the video was not released until days later.

The rampage came Dec. 14, the same day a heavily armed 20-year-old man killed his mother and then opened fire at a school in Newtown, Conn., killing 20 first-graders, six adults and then himself.

Official Chinese news organizations had much more coverage of the Newtown massacre than of the Henan attack, and there was an outpouring of sympathy for the U.S. tragedy as well as commentary drawing inevitable comparisons. Many Chinese Internet users pondered how many students at the Chenpeng school might have been killed if China had gun control laws as loose as those in the United States.

But now the Chinese video, circulating in this country on television and the Internet, has refocused attention on the Chenpeng attack, especially on security measures at the school and on local officials' efforts to squelch coverage.

Fury has been building because such rampages have recurred over the last three years, with intruders slashing at schoolchildren with knives and axes, including one who attacked with a hammer and then set himself on fire. Each case set off fear among parents across the country as well as criticism of government officials for not doing enough to protect children; each time, officials guaranteed schools would be secure. The video made blatant the gap between the official promises and reality.

Details were slow to filter out. Last Monday, the Internet operation of People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party, ran a report from a journalist who had traveled to Guangshan County. The article on the website, which is separate from the editorial operations of the print edition, said that even though school employees had asserted that a security guard was on the premises at the time, the attacker somehow managed to get to the third floor.

The same report said officials in Guangshan County appeared to be trying to cover up the attack. It said that the county propaganda office released details of the attack the day it occurred, but that someone later ordered the news removed from the county website. Officials canceled a news conference scheduled for the next day.

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