Observers Say Germany Must Be Better Prepared for School Shootings | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 11.03.2009
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Observers Say Germany Must Be Better Prepared for School Shootings

Germany reeled with shock after a 17-year-old gunned down students at a school in a rampage that left 15 dead before he took his own life. But now some are also saying the country needs to learn from this latest tragedy.

Ambulances at the scene of the school shooting

Many in Germany wondered how the country should move forward to prevent future tragedy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel did her best to sum up the nation's feelings on Wednesday, March 11, after a 17-year-old former school pupil went on a shooting rampage at his former school and in a nearby town.

"It's a day of sorrow for all of Germany," Merkel told reporters in Berlin. "It is incomprehensible that, within seconds, a terrible crime took pupils and teachers to their deaths."

The party leader of the Social Democrats, Franz Muentefering, was likewise hard-pressed to express his sorrow at the deaths of students, teachers and bystanders in and near the town of Winnenden. The perpetrator, identified only as Tim K., eventually killed himself when cornered by police on Wedneseday.

"You feel helpless because you know you can't offer any immediate consolation," Muentefering said. "It's impossible in this situation."

But others tried to draw some initial lessons from the tragic incident.

"We need to ask what we can do in a preventive sense -- what schools can do to be prepared and react correctly in critical moments," Family Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.

"But we also need to ask: What are the patterns?" she added. "What triggers someone to run amok?"

Recognition problem

Chancellor Merkel at a press conference after the shooting

Merkel said all of Germany mourned for the victims

The Winnenden rampage is the latest in a string of school shootings in Germany in the last decade.

In 2006, a masked man opened fire at a school in the western German town of Emsdetten, wounding at least 11 people before committing suicide. In April 2002, a former student at a high school in the eastern city of Erfurt killed 17 students and teachers before killing himself.

Psychologists say such acts of extreme, seemingly random violence result from a distorted relationship between the self and the outside world.

"The young perpetrator can't find a way of getting recognition in reality," Karoline Roshdi, a psychologist at the Darmstadt University, told DW-TV. "So they use violent fantasies to cope with this imbalanced situation. They comb the media for examples of similar perpetrators to emulate and thereby gain recognition."

Roshdi said the key to avoiding other shooting incidents in the future was recognizing the warning signs, including suicide threats and social isolation.

"There are risk indicators, and we need to communicate if there's a pupil at risk," Roshdi said. "Sometimes, an art teacher, for example, might notice one warning sign, and fellow students another one. They need to be brought together."

Too little supervision

Students leave a school as a police officer looks on

Experts called for a number of measures they say would protect children

In the immediate aftermath of the shootings, psychologists were brought in from throughout Germany to help those affected cope with the trauma of what had happened.

But questions were also raised as to whether the number of trained experts in German schools was adequate to prevent a repeat of Wednesday's tragic events.

"In individual cases, some new posts [for school psychologists] have been created, but there are still far too few," AP news agency reported.

The agency said Germany has only one psychologist per 12,000 students -- compared to around one for every 770 students in Denmark. The state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, where Winnenden is located, ranks near the bottom in Germany.

Others questioned whether German laws concerning firearms, which were beefed up after the 2002 Erfurt shootings, needed to be tightened even further. It is thought that Tim K. may have used a registered firearm belonging to his father to carry out the massacre.

Still others said the state should impose tighter restrictions on ultra-violent video games some think encourage psychologically unstable youngsters to act out their fantasies in real life.

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