German teen kills 17, himself at school

Saturday, April 27, 2002

ERFURT, Germany -- An expelled student dressed in black went on a shooting rampage at a school in eastern Germany on Friday, roaming the hallways with a pistol and a shotgun. Eighteen people died in the terrifying assault, including the attacker -- a 19-year-old who killed himself as commandos closed in.

Witnesses said 13 teachers, two girls, a school secretary and a policeman died in the shooting spree, which lasted perhaps 10 minutes. Four people were injured: one woman with a gunshot wound to the leg and three people who suffered from shock. Police said they found about 500 rounds of live ammunition near the killer's body.

"So-called 'American conditions' have reached us. We cannot let these excesses of violence become a part of our daily life," said Konrad Freiberg, the head of Germany's police union.

Friday's death toll in the eastern city of Erfurt matched that of the 1996 shootings at an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, where 16 children, a teacher and the gunman died. The toll was higher than the 15 who died in the 1999 shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.

Body removal

By late Friday and early today, authorities had begun removing bodies from the school.

"We cannot find words for what we feel in Germany right now," President Johannes Rau said. "Germany is in mourning in the face of these incomprehensible events."

During the standoff, about 180 students were trapped inside the school and a handwritten sign pasted to one window read "HILFE" -- Help. Outside, groups of dazed and shocked students huddled in the street, hugging and crying. The school has about 700 students in grades five through 12.

"I heard shooting and thought it was a joke," said Melanie Steinbrueck, 13, choking back tears. "But then I saw a teacher dead in the hallway in front of Room 209 and a gunman in black carrying a weapon."

At 9 p.m., the city's church bells rang. St. Mary's cathedral was filled with mourners who prayed and wept. Psychologists and religious leaders counseled stunned students until late in the evening.

The government ordered flags flown at half-staff, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's party canceled a weekend election rally as Germany reeled from what is believed to be the worst shooting violence since the end of World War II.

"We are stunned in the face of this horrible crime," a grim-faced Schroeder told reporters. "All explanations we could give right now don't go far enough."

Police said those killed in the Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium school were found lying in hallways and bathrooms.

"The police officers were confronted with a horrible scene," police spokesman Rainer Grube said.

Police did not identify the suspected killer. Grube said he had been expelled from the school, but did not say when. The expulsion apparently meant he could not take final exams.

A woman who said she went to school with the attacker said he once told her: "One day, I want everyone to know my name and I want to be famous."

In a television interview, Isabell Hartung said the youth often had run-ins with teachers, though she described him as intelligent and well-liked by his peers. She said he had "bad relations with his parents."

Police said a janitor first called for help at 11:05 a.m., reporting gunfire at the school. A squad car arrived within five minutes, and the gunman fired at the officers, killing one.

The teen-ager fled back inside the building. No more shots were heard until about a half-hour later, when police commandos stormed the school and the assailant shot himself in a classroom.

"The guy was dressed all in black -- gloves, cap, everything was black," said Juliane Blank, 13.

Authorities were investigating the possibility of a second gunman because some witnesses reported hearing shots from a different direction, a police spokeswoman said.

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