- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 27, 2002

From combined dispatches
ERFURT, Germany A former student bent on revenge after being expelled from his school fatally shot 17 persons 13 teachers, two female students, a school secretary and a police officer before killing himself yesterday in a small historic town in eastern Germany, police said.
Armed with a pump-action shotgun and a handgun, the 19-year-old rampaged though the Johann Gutenberg School in the town of Erfurt, blasting at teachers he spotted in the corridors and classrooms. He was masked and dressed in black.
A number of students who escaped unharmed said a second gunman had been in the school. Police said late yesterday that they were investigating the reports, and they could not rule out the possibility that a second assailant had escaped.
More than 1,000 mourners attended ceremonies in a cathedral and a nearby church. Many of the grief-stricken people lit candles for the dead.
The scale of the massacre rivals the worst school killings anywhere in the world in recent years. It stunned Germans, whose sense of security was upset just weeks ago by the deaths of 11 German tourists in a bomb blast in Tunisia.
"Police called to the scene found a scene of horror. There were dead people in the corridors, in the classrooms one was found in the toilet," a police spokesman said. Six persons were wounded in the shooting spree.
The identity of the killer was not released, but officials said he had been expelled from the school several months ago and banned from taking a high school exam required for entry into a university.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder canceled an election campaign event planned for today.
"This is so unique that it exceeds one's powers of imagination. I think we all need time to work this through in our minds," Mr. Schroeder told reporters. "There are questions here that we have to answer as a whole society."
Flags at the Reichstag parliament building in Berlin flew at half-staff.
The drama began shortly before 11 a.m. local time when the school janitor called police to report hearing shots at the school.
"We were sitting in class doing our work, and we heard a shooting sound," said Filip Niemann, a student who witnessed the bloodbath. "We joked about it, and the teacher smiled."
"The teacher let us go out and see what was happening, and when we left the classroom, three to four [yards] in front of us, there was a masked person in black holding his gun at his shoulder," the teen-ager said.
"He stretched out his gun and fired. We saw a teacher fall to the ground. We just turned and ran. I heard from other kids the gunmen opened classroom doors and aimed at teachers."
"The pupils ran out of the classroom, and he came after us and shot a teacher next to me," one girl, who was not named, told German radio. "He looked deep into my eyes."
One of two police officers who arrived at the school after the janitor's phone call was immediately shot dead.
Erfurt, a city of 220,000 about 150 miles southwest of Berlin, has been economically struggling but is better off than other cities in what used to be communist East Germany. It is not known for crime. Erfurt, with a medieval castle in its old city, was for a time home to Protestant reformer Martin Luther in the early 16th century.
The 11-year-old Johann Gutenberg School named after the inventor of the printing press and housed in a 1908 building has a high academic reputation. It has 53 teachers and about 700 students ages to 10 and 19.
Some of the students and teachers were trapped in classrooms for hours, too terrified to leave as the gunman roamed the premises. A piece of paper reading "Help" appeared on an upper floor window during the afternoon.
Armed police found the gunman dead in a classroom after combing the corridors for several hours.
Other mass killings at schools in recent years include the 1996 murder of 16 children and their teacher in the Scottish town of Dunblane by a lone gunman who later killed himself.
In April 1999 at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., two student gunmen killed 12 fellow students and a teacher before committing suicide.
Both events caused soul-searching in Britain and America about a loss of moral values and gun-control laws.
The shock of the massacre runs deep in Germany, where generations have grown used to a life of peace, prosperity and physical safety after the horrors of World War II.
"Where is it that we live exactly, how far have we come? It's not long since we were shocked at these kind of pictures from America. The idea of school as a safe haven seems to be gone in Germany, too," the newspaper Bild wrote in an editorial for today's edition.
German Interior Minister Otto Schily said, "We have to ask ourselves, what is wrong with society where such a young person causes such calamity and acts with such aggression?
"This student seems to have had such hatred because he was expelled and couldn't sit [for] his exam that he was driven to this terrible deed."
Mr. Schily said it was a macabre coincidence that the German parliament yesterday passed a gun-control law, tightening rules on the ownership of firearms.
Germany already has strict laws governing the right to possess a gun, but analysts say the country is awash with illegal weapons smuggled into the country from Eastern Europe and the Balkans.
"Even if I believed in God, I would not believe in him anymore. How could he let something like this happen?" asked student survivor Filip Niemann. "What I have seen today will stay with me for the rest of my life."

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