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School Massacre

March 12, 2009

A German official said Thursday that the teenage gunman who went on a rampage at his former school and killed 15 people before shooting himself announced his plans in an Internet chatroom the night before.

Flowers and candles mark the spot where three victims died during a police shootoutImage: AP

The 17-year-old gunman, identified in the German media as Tim K., had been receiving psychiatric treatment for depression and warned of his plans in an Internet chatroom the night before the attack, Heribert Rech, the interior minister of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said Thursday, March 12.

Rech quoted Tim K's comments in the early hours of the morning before the attack.

"I'm serious … I have weapons here and tomorrow morning I am going to go to my old school and really fry them. Keep the name Winnenden in mind," the teenager wrote.

The teenager went on a rampage in his former secondary school in the small town of Winnenden in the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in southwestern Germany on Wednesday morning, shooting nine students between the ages of 15 and 16, as well as three teachers. Three bystanders were also killed as the gunman attempted to flee police.

Tim K. was pursued by hundreds of armed police officers and snipers, assisted by helicopters and dogs. Less than three hours after his rampage began, he turned his weapon on himself after being injured in an exchange of fire with police.

Police commandos leave the Albertville school on Wednesday
Police commandos leave the Albertville school on WednesdayImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble ordered flags across the country to be flown at half mast on Thursday.

A first memorial service was held on Wednesday evening in a church in the town of 27,000 people. Mourners lit candles at the altar, and created a makeshift memorial of candles and flowers outside the Albertville school, where the shooting spree occurred.

Psychologists advise long-term care

The Albertville secondary school has been closed until further notice, and at least one psychologist has advised that it should remain closed permanently, as students would otherwise be forced to relive the trauma.

A team of psychologists and spiritual advisors are in Winnenden to care for the victims' family members, the students and their teachers.

According to spiritual advisor Ralf Radix, the community will need long-term care if they are to come to terms with Wednesday's tragic events.

"Each person affected needs something different," he told Germany's Protestant Church press service, EPD. "One person might need some peace and quiet, which we then have to create in the midst of all this hectic activity, and someone else might need a partner to talk to."

Chancellor Angela Merkel
Chancellor Merkel offered her sympathy to the family members of the victimsImage: AP

In her initial comments on the shooting, a visibly shaken Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday described the crime as "incomprehensible."

"It is a day of mourning for the whole of Germany," she said. "Our thoughts go out to the families and the friends. We are thinking of you and we are praying for you."

Politicians call for action

In the meantime, politicians have begun to voice their opinions on ways to better protect Germany's students and prevent such massacres from happening in the future.

The head of the parliamentary interior committee, Sebastian Edathy (SPD) said he thought the case could be made to install metal detectors at select schools.

While such measures have become commonplace at schools in the United States in the wake of the Columbine school shooting in 1999, Germany has so far resisted tougher security systems in its schools.

Bavarian Interior Minister, Joachim Herrmann (CSU), has also spoken out in favor of a ban on violent computer games after it emerged that Tim K. had killer games such as Counterstrike on his computer at home.

Criminologist Hans-Dieter Schwind said the government must act to tighten Germany's gun laws. Tim K. got the pistol he used in Wednesday's massacre from his parents' bedroom. His father, reportedly a member of a local shooting club, is said to own over a dozen guns, all locked away except the nine-millimeter Beretta that caused the carnage.

Other experts, including psychologists, say it's up to school officials to become more sensitive to the early warning signals sent out by troubled youths such as Tim K., who reportedly was an outsider at the Albertville school with few friends.

"One alarm signal is when young people strongly isolate themselves from their environment and spend hours each day in front of their computers," said Joerg Fegert, psychiatrist at the University Clinic for Child and Youth Psychology in Ulm.

He noted that gunmen like Tim K. often hint at their plans in online diaries or chatrooms, but that parents and teachers often remain oblivious, or react too late.

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