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‘Our hero’: Tributes to security guard killed in Belgrade shooting

By AFP - May 04,2023 - Last updated at May 04,2023

Flowers and candles for the victims are placed as police officers stand guard outside the Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school in the capital Belgrade, on Thursday (AFP photo)

BELGRADE — Dragan Vlahovic was known for remembering the students’ names at Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school in Belgrade and reminding them to wear their coats when it was cold.

On Wednesday, the long-time security guard saved an untold number of students as he attempted to shield students from a teenage gunman, losing his life in the process.

Nine people were killed in total during the melee: Vlahovic and eight students.

At a makeshift shrine on the pavement outside the school, the words below a small hand-sketched portrait of Vlahovic read simply: “Our Hero”.

Vlahovic, who is believed to have been in his early 50s, was a fixture at the school, where he was known for his jovial spirit and ease with the students.

“The children felt like he was one of their own,” Suzana Stojicic, the mother of an eight-year-old girl who attends the school, told AFP. “He knew them all by name.

“Every morning he greeted them with a smile, asked them about their grades, and reminded them to put on their jackets.”

Just moments after the shooting, Milan Nedeljkovic — the president of Belgrade’s Vracar district where the school is located — said Vlahovic was among the first victims in the melee, after putting himself directly in the line of fire.

“Probably the tragedy would be even bigger if the man did not stand in front of the boy who was shooting,” Nedeljkovic told reporters.


‘An angel’ 


As news of his death spread, parents and students took to social media, praising Vlahovic for his service and sacrifice.

“He was an angel and a symbol of our school... Uncle Dragan, we will remember you forever and thank you from the bottom of our hearts for all the lovely memories,” one parent posted on social media.

Serbian actress Milena Vasic also posted a photograph of Vlahovic on her Instagram, thanking him for “having guarded us for all these years”.

During an address to the nation hours after the shooting, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic took a moment to pay his respects to Vlahovic, noting that he had been friendly with the 13-year-old suspected shooter.

“This security guard was the spirit of the school, looked after the children and took care of them,” Vucic said during a live broadcast.


“Everyone knew him.”


As Serbians across the country took stock of the tragedy, Vlahovic’s loss served as a grim reminder for many of the utter devastation wreaked by the deadliest school shooting in Serbia’s recent history.

“He always stood with the children, and lost his life defending the children,” said Andrijana, the mother of two boys who attend Vladislav Ribnikar. She declined to provide her surname for privacy reasons.

“Unfortunately for us all, this tragedy is a reflection of the society we live in. Sad.”


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