Shortly after 5 a.m., the armored personnel carriers moved across the square. At high, murderous speeds, they crushed the tents against the concrete. Using gasoline or flame-throwers, the personnel carriers ignited the tents, along with whatever or whoever was inside them.
The armored personnel carriers took aim at another target: They knocked down the "Goddess of Democracy." It was a classic case of military might destroying art. Some students later said, though without substantiation, that several protesters clung to the goddess to the very end and were crushed.
Troops then moved against the remaining students. There were several reports that they sprayed bullets into the last students huddled around the base of the Monument to the People's Heroes, although amid the din, the confusion and the terror, no witnesses have come forward.
A Reuters correspondent, who was in the square until these last minutes and reported that the remaining students had been shot, said the last holdouts begged him to get out the news. Tell the world what is happening, the students said. Tell the world.
By early morning June 4, at 7:40 a.m., the regime announced to a deserted square that the "rebellion has been suppressed and the soldiers are now in charge of Tian An Men."
The toll had been enormous. Official U.S. estimates are that at least 3,000 people, and perhaps as many as 5,000, died in that night of carnage, and that many thousands more were wounded. A source in the Chinese Red Cross, basing his estimate primarily on hospital figures, reckoned that there had been 2,700 deaths.
Some of the victims never made it to hospitals. One witness saw a freight car with bodies on a Beijing rail line. Another claimed to have seen troops cremating bodies at Tian An Men Square. And there were reports of trucks removing bodies to the crematory at Babaoshan Cemetery in western Beijing.
With a paucity of proof, foreigners were forced to compile estimates based on known numbers of bodies at some hospitals, combined with eyewitness accounts of the shooting and deaths at scenes of heavy fighting or firing. Such estimates ranged from several hundred protesters dead to several thousand.
A press release issued by the Propaganda Department of the Beijing Municipal Committee of the Chinese Communist Party offered a different account.
"Nearly 100 soldiers and policemen died and thousands of soldiers and policemen were wounded . . . ," it said.
"In order to carry out their duty of quelling the insurrection and restoring law and order in the capital, the martial-law troops finally were forced to fire on the rioters. The result was that some 100 civilians were killed and nearly 1,000 were injured. The government and the martial-law troops share the grief of the families of those killed and injured in this unavoidable tragedy."