Four ambulances rolled into the precincts of Jyothinilayam Higher Secondary School in the coastal St. Andrews neighbourhood here on Tuesday. It was 12.20 p.m.

On any other day, it would be barely 10 minutes before the school bell sounded the recess for lunch.

Then scores of students, uniformed boys and girls of different ages, would have poured out from their classrooms, made a hurried pretence of eating their home-packed meals and headed out to the playground to enjoy 45 minutes of freedom and fun.

But Tuesday was different for them. Scores of uniformed students lined up in front of the school, in the harsh sun, to bid farewell to four of their schoolmates who died when the minibus carrying them plunged into the Parvathy Puthanar canal near Channankara on Monday.

Teachers, parents, priests, nuns, local residents, and policemen stood alongside the students, in a seemingly vain attempt to find solace in togetherness in the aftermath of the tragedy.

The body of Kaniha Santhosh, 6, was clad in a snow-white first communion gown and veil. It was brought out of the ambulance to be placed on the bier erected in front of the school's portals. The coffins containing the bodies of Ashwin, 9, Krishnapriya, 10, and Aromal S. Nair, 5, followed.

The priests and nuns broke into a mournful hymn as the crowd lined past the coffins in silence. The bodies were kept at the school till 1.20 p.m. They were later taken and placed in front of the local Kadhinamkulam police station for the public to pay homage.

The body of Kaniha will be interred at St. Joseph Church, Santhipuram, on Wednesday. The rest of the children were buried in the compounds of their respective homes, all within a 4 sq km radius of the school.

Earlier, a large crowd of relatives, neighbours, friends, and parents of fellow students had gathered at Government Medical College Hospital here to receive the bodies after the post-mortem examination. A cavalcade of police vans, private vehicles, and scores of motorcycles piloted the ambulances to the school. City Mayor K. Chandrika, Archbishop of Thiruvananthapuram M. Susaipakiam, District Collector P.M. Francis, and Deputy Superintendent of Police K.E. Baiju were present.