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Flower and candles in memory of the victims of the school shooting in Winnenden
It was a somber day in the usually sleepy town of WinnendenImage: AP

A Somber Day

March 21, 2009

Thousands of people converged on the small German town of Winnenden on Saturday, where a memorial service was being held for the 15 victims of a school shooting. The German chancellor and president were in attendance.

Horst Koehler arriving to the memorial service
Koehler criticized modern society's swiftness to raise up people only to drop them againImage: AP

There was not enough room in the 900-seat church, so the event was relayed to 15 large video screens set up in other locations around Winnenden. It was also broadcast live on national television.

German President Horst Koehler gave an address during the ecumenical service, while Chancellor Angela Merkel was also present among the mourners.

"All Germany mourns with you," Koehler told the congregation. "When a child dies, it is hope and the future which die too," he added.

Despite initial estimate of 100,000 expected mourners, police said Saturday that at least 7,500 people from surrounding areas had come to Winnenden for the service. Some 500 police officers and 900 members of the emergency services were said to be on duty.

Families call for more gun laws

A woman reads an open letter in a newspaper
Parents of the victims called in an open letter for tighter gun controlImage: AP

In open letter to Merkel and Koehler, the families of the victims appealed Saturday for the introduction of laws restricting the access of young people to guns.

"In our pain, in our helplessness and in our anger, we can't just do nothing," read the letter. "We want to make sure there is never another Winnenden."

The message, which appeared in the local newspaper Winnender Zeitung, also called for less violence on television and a ban on extremely violent computer games.

They also want killers not to be identified, in order to keep them from being glorified. "This is crucial to preventing copycat killing," they wrote.

In his address, President Koehler backed the parents, saying there should be restrictions on the spread of the "innumerable films and video games of extreme violence, with their display of dead bodies."

Gunman's motives still unclear

Chancellor Angela Merkel and Baden-Wuerttemberg's Prim Minister Guenther Oettinger
Chancellor Merkel paid her respects at the serviceImage: AP

Many shops had closed for the day and black ribbons hung from trees and buildings to mark the tragic events of March 11.

Seventeen-year-old Tim K. went on a shooting spree at his former school, killing nine students and three teachers.

He also shot and killed a gardener before commandeering a car and fleeing to the nearby town of Wendlingen, where he gunned down two other people.

As police caught up with him, he shot himself in the head.

Tim K. had stolen the Beretta pistol from his father, a hobby marksman who kept 15 weapons in his home and is now under a criminal investigation on suspicion of involuntary manslaughter.

A motive has not yet been established for the shooting spree, though the youth apparently had an interest in firearms and violent computer games and had suffered from depression.

Albertville Secondary School, where the rampage took place, has been closed since the tragedy, but is set to reopen on Monday.

It was the worst school shooting in Germany since a teenager killed 16 people and himself in the eastern town of Erfurt in April 2002.

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