Case Filed in German High School Slaughter | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 03.03.2004
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Case Filed in German High School Slaughter

Almost two years after a school massacre killed 16 people, one of the victims' partners has taken state authorities to court for not having done enough to save lives. It's reopened questions underlying the tragedy.


The shooting at a high school in Erfurt sent shockwaves around Germany.

On April 26, 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser gunned down 12 teachers, two students, a secretary and a policeman within minutes at his former high school in the eastern German town of Erfurt. He then shot himself.

Amoklauf in Erfurter Gymnasium SEK

Police at the Erfurt high school shooting

The bloodbath stunned the nation and left a stain on the sleepy German town in the state of Thuringia. A national debate broke out on the link between vicious computer games, which Steinhäuser was addicted to, and increasing violence among teenagers. At the time, critical voices were also raised about the role of the local police and whether they had done enough to save victims' lives.

Now, almost two years later, Erfurt lawyer Eric Langer, who lost his partner, an art teacher, during the massacre, is ensuring that the same questions are kept alive. Langer filed a case against the state of Thuringia this week, accusing those responsible for the police action on the day of the shoot-out, of acting too late or irresponsibly in five cases.

Langer, who has carried out his own research into the incident and personally spoken to about 70 witnesses, believes that three teachers and two students died only one to two hours after they were fatally injured by Steinhäuser. Though there is no way of knowing if they could have been saved, Langer says it's incomprehensible that no attempt was made.

Amoklauf in Erfurter Schule - eine verletzte Schülerin

The lawyer has also accused the various emergency services of disastrous coordination efforts. "Each emergency service waited for the next one with the result that the entire deployment was paralysed," Langer told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Langer also described the entire operation as "entirely chaotic," with several students and police officers not even aware that paramedics had been allowed to enter the school building. Langer's own partner, Birgit Dettke, is said to have laid crying in vain for help for almost an hour and a half in the schoolyard, just meters away from policemen.

No mention of police failures

A 43-page investigative report compiled by Thuringia's interior ministry two months after the massacre, however, assumed that, "all victims would have had no chance of survival even if they had undergone an immediate emergency operation." Langer has slammed the report for ignoring the alleged failures of the police operation.

Nor had the report, which was originally meant to be just an interim assessment, been pursued further. It was only in January this year that Thuringia's premier, Dieter Althaus, commissioned his justice minister to open a detailed probe into the massacre after facing pressure from an opposition political parties and Langer's threat to take the matter to the court.

Bodo Ramelow of the Party of Democratic Socialism is also pushing the government to implement a tighter weapons law than the existing one, introduce school reforms and make more provisions for traumatized victims.

Book on massacre causes controversy

The issue has been lent urgency with the publication of the controversial part-fiction book "Das reicht für heute" (That's Enough for Today) by German author Ines Geipel. Geipel, who wrote the story through the perspective of a fictitious former student, has accused the police of inaction and criticized efforts by the Thuringia government to bury fundamental debates and questions that sprung up in the aftermath of the shooting.

Geipel, however, has been publicly slammed by both teachers and students from the high school where the massacre took place as a sensation-seeker. They have branded her book an "unauthorized intrusion" for her cold-blooded and chilling details of the crime.

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