17 dead in German school shooting

<div class="meta image-caption"><div class="origin-logo origin-image none"><span>none</span></div><span class="caption-text">People mourn prior to a memorial service for the victims of a gun man in a church in Winnenden, Wednesday, March 11, 2009. A 17-year-old gunman dressed in black opened fire inside his former high school in southwestern Germany on Wednesday killing 15 people, 11 of them women and girls, before turning the gun on himself, authorities said. &#40;AP Photo&#47;Christof Stache&#41; </span></div>
March 11, 2009 11:29:59 AM PDT
A 17-year-old gunman dressed in black opened fire inside his former high school in southwestern Germany on Wednesday killing 15 people, 11 of them women and girls, before turning the gun on himself, authorities said. Police said the attacker's father, a gun club member, owned 16 guns, one of which was missing.

The gunman entered the school in Winnenden at 9:33 a.m. after classes had begun and opened fire, shooting at random, police said. He killed nine students, three teachers and a passer-by outside the building, officials said. Two other people were killed later.

RELATED: Pictures of the scene in Germany

"He went into the school with a weapon and carried out a bloodbath," said regional police chief Erwin Hetger. "I've never seen anything like this in my life."

Triggering a land and air manhunt, the gunman hijacked a car and forced the driver to head south, sitting in the back seat, according to Stuttgart prosecutors, who are leading the investigation.

When the driver swerved off the road to avoid a police checkpoint, he managed to escape and the suspect, identified only as Tim K., ran into an industrial area in the town of Wendlingen with police in pursuit.

There he entered an auto dealership, shooting and killing a salesman and a customer, and then went back outside, prosecutors said.

"In front of the auto dealership the young man then opened fire toward the many police vehicles," prosecutors said. "A gunbattle ensued between the 17-year-old and the many police involved in the pursuit of him. According to our current information, the 17-year-old then shot himself."

Two police officers suffered serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Police said the suspect was a German teen who graduated last year from the school of about 1,000 students.

No motive has been identified. The victims were primarily female. Of the students killed, eight were girls and one was a boy. All three teachers were women. The victims at the auto dealership were men, as was the passer-by who was shot near the school.

In their hunt for the gunman, police searched his parents' home in a nearby town. The suspect's father, who is a member of a local gun club, had 16 firearms, one of which was missing, police said.

Police identified the weapon used in the attack as a high-caliber pistol.

The death toll was close to that of Germany's worst school shooting.

In the 2002, 19-year-old Robert Steinhaeuser shot and killed 12 teachers, a secretary, two students and a police officer before turning his gun on himself in the Gutenberg high school in Erfurt, in eastern Germany.

Steinhaeuser, who had been expelled for forging a doctor's note, was a gun club member licensed to own weapons. The attack led Germany to raise the age for owning recreational firearms from 18 to 21.

German Chancellor Angel Merkel called the shooting "a horrific crime."

"It is hard to put into words what happened today, but our sadness and sympathy goes out to the victims' families," Merkel said at a news conference.

The European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France, stood in silence for a minute, to honor the victims.

"It is our task as responsible politicians in the European Union and, indeed, all the member states to do our utmost that such deeds can be prevented," said EU assembly president Hans-Gert Pottering, a German.

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