"A tragedy quite without precedent within this country" is how Ronnie Smith, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, described the murder on Wednesday of 16 pupils at Dunblane primary and their primary 1 teacher.
Gwenne Mayor, aged 44, a mother of two, was taking a class of 29 in the school gym after their religious education class when the killer burst in. Moments later 15 five-year-olds were dead. Another pupil died later in hospital. Twelve others were injured, three of whom were described as critical late on Wednesday.
Fred Forrester, the EIS's depute general secretary, said the events were a "holocaust: one of our members and two-thirds of her class have simply been wiped out".
The gunman, Thomas Hamilton, aged 43, from Stirling, later shot himself. He had run a five-a-side football club for primary boys, latterly in the gym where the massacre took place.
Children who spoke afterwards said that Hamilton, who had run a business in Dunblane and was a member of the local gun club, was known as a "pervert" whom they avoided.
The first on the scene of what the police described as "appalling carnage" was Ron Taylor, headteacher of the 600-pupil school. Mr Taylor was hailed as a "hero" and "an enormous tower of strength".
William Wilson, Chief Constable of Central Scotland police, paid tribute to the head for "keeping in touch with normality and humanity" and for his actions in what was an indescribable situation. Michael Forsyth, the Secretary of State and local MP, said Mr Taylor "should never have had to face these circumstances". George Robertson, the Shadow Scottish Secretary, who lives in the town and whose children are former pupils of the school, said: "No one can speak too highly of him."
The Association of Head Teachers (Scotland), of which Mr Taylor is a member, is now preparing to offer its support to the school as is the EIS and the local authority.
Jim Smith, general secretary of the AHTS, backed the general reaction that stepping up school security would be no answer to extreme acts of savagery. But trends towards easier access to make schools more welcoming to parents and the community would have to be reviewed. Mr Smith said he regularly had complaints from members of "ugly encounters" with parents who often threatened violence.
A Government review is currently studying security in schools throughout Britain, in the wake of the fatal stabbing of Philip Lawrence, a London headteacher. Mr Smith of the EIS said that unions, local authorities and the Government would have to sit down "in a calm and measured way to discuss what can be done". He added: "We can't legislate for such an extreme eventuality as this."
Jim McNair, secretary of the Headteachers' Association of Scotland, which represents secondary heads, said: "This is such a monstrous incident that it will affect for all foreseeable time parents' feelings about the safety of their children at school."
The Prime Minister expressed his outrage at the tragedy, ironically during an international conference in Egypt to discuss violence and terrorism. The Queen sent her "deepest and most heartfelt sympathy" to relatives.