BRUSSELS -- King Albert II and thousands of mourners Wednesday remembered the 28 victims of last week's bus crash in a Swiss tunnel during a memorial service centering on the 22 schoolchildren whose promise of youth was shattered by sudden death.
Under a sparkling sky in northern Lommel, soldiers took part in a solemn procession that carried 15 coffins into a 5,000-capacity hall. The brown casket contained the remains of a teacher, the 14 white ones held the bodies of children who were on the cusp of their teenage years.
The students and the teacher were from one of two schools in northern Belgium that shared a bus for a traditional "snow class" vacation in Switzerland. They were returning from that exuberant holiday on March 13 when tragedy struck. Their bus, carrying 52 people, slammed into a tunnel wall. In addition to the dead, 24 children were injured.
The cause of the crash remains under investigation.
In Leuven, close to Brussels, a vigil with torches and candles lit up an evening sky as hundreds of students and citizens attended to show their respect for the victims of the second school that was hit by the tragedy. A full memorial service is set for early Thursday.
"Is there something worse than parents who lose what they love most?" asked Lommel Mayor Peter Vanvelthoven at the opening of Wednesday's service.
Fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters of the dead gave speeches reminiscing about their lost loved ones, including a daughter's favorite meal and a son's newly decorated bedroom.
"The snow classes were a true feast. Happy, smiling kids. Excellent weather, great snow," ski monitor supervisor Marina Claes said of the days preceding the tragedy. She spoke of snow barbecues, surprise parties, and on the last day "everyone got their much desired ski diploma," she said.