Hadzira and her children boarded one of 200 buses and countless trucks that took refugees, mainly women and children, to Tuzla. Selman, along with about 2,000 men and a few teenage boys, boarded another set of buses. They were taken to a school and forced into a gymnasium.
"Mevludin, what are you doing here?" Selman asked when he saw his son-in-law.
"I don't know what the hell I'm doing here," said Mevludin, who had not wanted to give himself up. He had been among the thousands of Muslim men who -- unable to stop the fall of Srebrenica due to a lack of weapons, sufficient ammunition, leadership, and sheer will -- had begun a 35-mile march to Tuzla on foot instead of surrendering. Mevludin and his male relatives had joined the end of a five-mile column of 10,000 to 15,000 men who tried to escape the Bosnian Serb advance by heading into the hills, hoping to make the six day journey by foot. Mevludin knew the route well, for he had smuggled ammunition into Srebrenica from Tuzla during the siege. But the group had not gotten very far across the thickly forested hills and sweeping valleys when the Bosnian Serbs surrounded them and opened fire with mortars and gunfire. The Muslims tried to escape but were blocked and ambushed by Serbs throwing grenades, hurling shells, and firing guns. After two days of repeated ambushes, watching the wounded die alone after being abandoned by family and friends attempting to save themselves, nearly 7,000 men, including Mevludin, began their surrender to the Bosnian Serbs.
"The [Serbs] could treat us soldiers bad, but not the people who did not fight," he said, expressing confusion about why both civilian and military men would be kept together.
Selman, though very tall and strong, was very gentle, always willing to compromise, and never fought due to his partial deafness.
"He didn't do anything to anyone," said Mevludin. "I thought for sure he would have been sent with the women and children."
Inside the gym, the men were instructed to sit down and face the doors and the walls. They were ordered not to talk and not to look around. On that mid-summer day, the gym steamed with the acrid sweat of 2,000 men crowding against each other. Mladic arrived and told everyone that they were going to be taken to Batkovic prison camp. The guards took five men away at a time and made the rest scoot forward, always in a seated position, to fill the empty space on the floor and wait their turn.
"It could have been an hour, it could have been five hours," said Mevludin. "It was so hot, and we were all thirsty. I nearly passed out."
The last time Mevludin saw his father-in-law, Selman was seated on the floor, facing the wall of the gymnasium.
A couple of Serb soldiers put Mevludin on a bus with other men. After several hours of waiting, the bus took them to a field where he was lined up with hundreds of other men. The Bosnian Serb soldiers opened fire, bullets raking across the chests, arms, and legs of the men. Mevludin made himself fall into the pit, where his cousin's bleeding body fell on top of him. At nightfall, unhurt, he crawled out from under the bloodied and lifeless corpses and began a seven-day escape to Tuzla. He was one of the few men to survive the massacre.
Mevludin believes that Selman was treated the same as he was, carted off to a field to be shot and buried in a mass grave dug by a bulldozer. Other men were taken to different fields and shot. Still others were confined to a warehouse, beaten with crow bars and axes, blown up with grenades. Sead's other brother-in-law, who was married to his third sister, Musa, was found buried with his four brothers in a grave in Potocari.
Sead never saw his father alive again. He donated a sample of his own blood to forensic pathologists who are still examining the mass burial sites from the massacre. It was only last year that they identified the remains of Selman Bekric in a mass grave in Kamenica, a village near the Bosnian Serb military headquarters in Zvornik. He had been shot once in the head and three times in the leg. The Bekric family was finally able to bury their father.
"I knew my father would never make it. He
was a strong man, but he was too gentle. He had no experience on the
frontline. He wasn't a fighter. He was handicapped," said Sead.
Despite Sead's evacuation to Los Angeles in 1993, doctors were unable to save his sight. He underwent several operations, but the optic nerve in his right eye was too damaged.
"When I arrived in 1993, I was basically a child," said Sead. "I couldn't see, I couldn't speak English, I did not know Braille, or how to behave as a blind person." He went straight from the hospital to living at the home of Claire Halasz, his benefactor who made an ongoing, committed effort to help the Bekric family. At the time, she was living with Tony Maglica, the founder of Maglite.
Sead's mother, Mulija, who had never held a paying job before, began working in the Maglite factory, where she helped put flashlights together. Mulija learned enough English to get around and to go shopping. After 10 years in California, she moved back to Bosnia and bought half an acre of property in Tuzla, where she now grows fruits and vegetables.