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Europe

Dutch mourn victims of mall killing spree

The Netherlands was trying to come to grips with a deadly shooting in a small town over the weekend. Church bells tolled for the victims as questions began to be asked as to how such violence could have occurred.

Injured people are carried out of a shopping mall

Five were killed in the shopping mall; a sixth person died later

Shock washed over the Netherlands on Sunday, a day after a 24-year-old man went on a deadly shooting spree in a shopping center in the small town of Alphen aan den Rijn.

The man, identified as Tristan van der Vlis, entered the Ridderhof mall armed with an automatic weapon and opened fire on the crowd, killing six and wounding 16. He then turned the gun on himself.

Dutch churches held memorial services for the victims on Sunday as the nation tried to come to terms with the violence, which many have described as "un-Dutch."

"Alphen aan den Rijn will never be the same," said one of more than 5,000 messages on an electronic condolence register opened in the town of around 72,000 inhabitants.

"Why? We are incredulous and shocked," said another. "The Netherlands lost its innocence."

Another resident, Martin van der Ploeg, told news agency Reuters that the shooting was "something you usually see in America, not in the Netherlands."

"Dutch people consider themselves down to earth. We don't have this sort of excess," van der Ploeg said. "This was my home, my sanctuary, where I need to feel safe, and now that's gone."

Disaster management expert Eelco Dykstra told Dutch public broadcaster NOS that the country lacked expertise in profiling potential mass killers and detecting early warning signs.

Unclear motives

Witnesses comfort each other outside Ridderhof shopping mall in Alphen aan den Rijn

The shopping-mall shooting shocked the Netherlands

The gunman left a farewell letter, which was found by his mother, in which he mostly talked about his suicidal feelings. The letter lacked a clear explanation of why he went on the killing spree, however.

Van der Vlis had previously been investigated by police in 2003 for contraventions of the Dutch arms and ammunitions act, but the case was dropped.

Public prosecutors said a second letter found in van der Vlis' car had claimed that bombs had been planted in several shopping centers, though no such explosives were found following a police search of the surrounding areas.

A silent memorial service was due to be held outside the Ridderhof mall on Sunday evening.

Author: Darren Mara (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

Editor: Toma Tasovac

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