US Shootings Resurrect Erfurt Horror | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 24.03.2005
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US Shootings Resurrect Erfurt Horror

On Monday, a pupil entered the Red Lake High School in Minnesota and killed ten people. The killings stirred painful memories in the German town of Erfurt, which endured its own massacre three years ago.


The question "Why?" still echoes around Erfurt and now in Red Lake

The latest school shooting in the United States brought back some very painful memories for the people of Erfurt, Germany.

Monday's killings at the Red Lake High School in Minnesota in which 16-year-old Jeff Weise shot and killed 10 people, including himself, reopened emotional wounds which have yet to heal in the small German town, the scene of one of Europe's bloodiest school massacre three years ago.

Erfurt’s Mayor Manfred Ruge was amongst the first to express his condolences to the victims and their relatives when the news about the shootings in Minnesota became known.

Erfurt's mayor offers advice from the heart

Ruge had first hand experience of such a tragedy when, in April 2002, Robert Steinhäuser, who had been expelled from the Erfurt's Gutenberg High School, killed twelve teachers, a secretary, two students, a police officer and himself. From the mayor's own experience three years ago, Ruge made it clear that attention is what the people in Red Lake now need most.

Gedenkfeier in Erfurt

Remembering the Erfurt tragedy

"I would recommend to the administration of Red Lake: listen to the families. Listen to what they need," Erfurt's mayor told reporters. "Don’t just stay in contact with them: seek out contact with them. Because only when people listen to each other, and give courage to each other to express their feelings, then can they help each other."

In their shock three years ago, many Germans said publicly that while this sort of thing happens in America, it shouldn’t happen here, citing Europe's tighter gun control laws. Now following Red Lake, European editorial writers have turned on the Bush administration for not curbing gun ownership. But Mayor Ruge doesn’t agree.

Strict gun laws can't stop the determined

"There’s an official statistic in Germany which suggests that at least two-thirds of weapons owned by citizens here are illegal. This is a social problem. A large number of Germans can get a weapon when they want one," Ruge said.

He is convinced that such killings could happen in Germany again.

Rathaus in Erfurt Blumen Trauer

Floral tributes in Erfurt

"Many of my colleagues made clear that in their school, there have been violence and threats. It just never got to the point where a student killed so many other students and teachers.... In Germany, violence in schools is a daily problem."

Indeed, in July 2003, the unthinkable almost happened again. A 16-year-old boy at a school in the Bavarian town of Coburg died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound after shooting his teacher in the leg in an incident reminiscent of the Erfurt school shooting a year before.

According to witnesses at the time, the Coburg pupil stood up from his chair during a biology class, pulled out a weapon and fired at the teacher, who stood just a few meters in front of him.

Amoklauf eines Schülers in Coburg

Memorial outside the Coburg school

Unharmed, the teacher and the other students were able to escape from the room. A second teacher who also worked as a school counselor then attempted to approach the pupil and was hit in the leg when she tried to seize the gun. Police say the pupil then pulled out another weapon and shot himself.

School killings not just US phenomenon

North America and Europe are not the only continents affected by school murders. In the last year alone, there have been six incidents reported in China. Nine people in total were killed in the attacks which were carried out with knives. The total would have been a lot higher had the assailants had the same access to guns as those in the US and Germany.

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