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Shocked survivors of the Erfurt school shootingImage: AP

Germany Mourns

April 27, 2002

After Friday's school massacre in the eastern German city of Erfurt, a time of soul searching has begun. The Gutenberg High School shooting left 17 people dead.


The people of Erfurt are mourning. They are shocked and cannot believe what has happened. The Erfurt school shooting is without precedent in the history of post-war Germany.

In response Friday's school shootout, Germany's Interior Minister Otto Schily has asked what is wrong in a society where a young person acts with such aggression.

Friday's shootout leaves 17 dead

Robert Steinhaeuser
Robert S. (AP Photo/Thueringer Allgemeine)Image: Thüringer Allgemeine/AP

Robert S. (photo), a former student of Erfurt's Gutenberg High School, had entered the school building shortly before midday on Friday. "He was wearing a mask, and he was dressed completely in black," one student remembers the scene. "He came out of the bathroom with a gun strapped to his back. He walked right past us. He didn't really look at us. He walked up to the secretary's office and knocked on the door. When the door opened, he just started shooting."

Within twenty minutes, the 19-year-old killed 13 teachers, two students and one police officer. Police on Saturday said that Robert S. clinically shot many of his victims in the head.

Courageous teacher halts killer

According to Erfurt police, a courageous teacher intervened and ended the killing spree. The teacher grabbed the armed teenager, pulled the mask off his head and addressed Robert by his name. He then pushed the former student into a classroom and locked the door.

"A teacher held him up and locked him into a room. He showed a lot of courage," a police spokesman said on Saturday.

Amoklauf in Erfurter Gymnasium SEK
special police task force in Erfurt on FridayImage: AP

Locked into the classroom, Robert S. shot himself as armed police moved in on him.

Police said they found another 500 bullets hidden in the school, which they believe had been planted by Robert S.

Officers from Germany's Federal Criminal Investigation Office have been combing the school building since Friday for more clues to help explain the massacre. Their investigation is expected to last for at least two days.

Erfurt in shock

A scene like the Erfurt shooting was unprecedented in Germany - a country with some of the tightest gun-control laws in the world.

On Friday evening church bells tolled all over Erfurt. More than one thousand people gathered at the town's Church of Saint Andrew for an ecumenical service in honor of the victims.

Amoklauf in Erfurter Schule - Kerzen und Blumen
flowers and candles for the victimsImage: AP

Students, teachers, parents and local residents have placed flowers in front of Erfurt's Gutenberg High School and have lit candles.

No one can comprehend Friday's events at the school.

Likeable and intelligent, but craving recognition

Schoolmates described Robert S. as likeable, open and intelligent, but they say he craved recognition. Until early spring, Robert had been a student at Erfurt's Gutenberg High School. Last year, he failed to qualify for the final high school exams Abitur with the rest of his class and was forced to repeat the final year.

Robert Steinhaeuser
Robert S. (AP Photo/Thueringer Allgemeine)Image: Thüringer Allgemeine/AP

But in February of this year, Robert S. was expelled from the school because he had forged absentee excuse notes.

He went on his Friday killing spree just as his former fellow classmates were sitting down to take their final Abitur exams.

Some German psychologists have said that Robert S. may have been influenced by the Columbine High School massacre. On April 20, 1999, two students of Columbine High School in Littleton/Colorado shot dead one teacher and twelve fellow students before killing themselves.

The US has witnessed 20 separate school massacres over the past decade.

Germany's politicians try to find the right words

Amoklauf in Erfurter Schule - Reichstag
The German flag flutters half-mast atop the roof of the Reichstag in BerlinImage: AP

On the day after the Erfurt shooting, flags on all government buildings in Germany are flying at half-mast this Saturday.

Germany's political leaders have been struggling to find the right words to express their shock over the events in Erfurt. Chancellor Schröder said, "Any efforts to try to work out how such a thing could have happened are premature." He added that "there are questions here that have to be answered by society as a whole."

"I think everyone in Germany feels with the relatives of the victims," the chancellor said. "This is so unheard of that it exceeds the power of imagination. I think we all need time to work this through in our minds."

Otto Schily
German Interior Minister Otto SchilyImage: AP

Shortly after the events of Erfurt became known, the Chancellor met for crisis talks with interior minister, Otto Schily (photo) who was also shocked by the events. "I'd like to express my sincere sympathy with the relatives, especially the parents of the students, and I'd like to assure them of the government's full assistance," Schily said.

All of Germany's political leaders agree that the first priority now is to provide support for the survivors and relatives of the victims of Friday's attack.

"This crime exceeds all others that have been committed in our state," said Manfred Scherer, Interior Minister of the German federal state of Thuringia. "This day has changed Thuringia."

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