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When dignified silence is the only answer to unfathomable cruelty

There are blows and then there are double blows. A disaster. An accident. But a deliberate act of killing, on top of already insurmountable grief - that tips the scales.

When seven coaches, filled with 80 family members of the Germanwings crash victims, rolled up an Alpine dirt track to see the mountain their loved ones' remains lay behind yesterday, they had just learned of the ultimate betrayal.

The plane crash was the result of a deliberate act, at the hands of a man their children, grandchildren and mothers had placed their lives in.

These strangers, thrown together in their grief, had been travelling for nearly two days to get as close as possible to the epicentre of their tragedy, when the second round of devastating news broke.

"When they heard today that it was not an accident, but deliberate, for the families it was double tragedy, double pain," explains Michelle Martin.

Ms Martin lives and works in the south of France but has a holiday home in Vernet, the village of 130 people, that lies directly beside the crash site.

"I am taking families from two separate victims, one is a couple and then the other is two children. It was the mayor that called me and said, 'okay, your family is...'

"All the people are direct family members of the victims," she explains.

She has taken holiday leave to show "solidarity" to these strangers who have travelled hundreds of miles to gather what they can of their loved ones' remains.

In total, 60 families in the area are acting as host families as the crash victims' relatives go about the arduous task of providing DNA to be matched with body parts.

These people first had to learn the awful news that, 'yes, your son was on that plane', then they took flights and buses and eventually arrived in a French field, to learn their grief was not caused by an accident but by a deliberate act of killing.

All this and they haven't even as much as a torn shoe to which to say, 'yes that was hers'.

As the relatives drove past in the hired coaches, they made no attempt to hide their faces, they just stared out the bus windows in all their grief.

Their absolute vulnerability in that moment made their faces impossible to photograph.

The world's media had been waiting two days to see these people, talk to these people, but at 10 metres apart, I couldn't bring myself to press the button of my camera phone.

That was some mother's son staring out at me, that was some daughter's father. It could have been mine.

At the make-shift ceremony, they carried white roses with them, lilies and bottles of water, and smoked cigarettes.

Those who had someone to hold draped an arm across a shoulder.

This was a mass funeral but without a single corpse. There were no loud sobs of pain, the sky was clear and the air was without a sound.

"You wonder how someone can do something like that," says Andreas Mathieu, who lives in Seyne, the next village up.

Nobody had any answers.

Irish Independent