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Gunman Legally Owned Weapons in German Attack

Violence: A teacher ended the school massacre by locking the 'skilled shooter' in a room, where he killed himself, police say.

April 28, 2002|DAVID HOLLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ERFURT, Germany — A teenage gunman who killed 16 people and himself at his former school here was a gun-club member who legally owned the weapons he carried in the rampage, targeting most of his victims with well-aimed pistol shots to the head, authorities said Saturday.

Friday's blood bath was cut short after about 15 minutes by a courageous history teacher, Rainer Heise, who managed to shove the black-clad gunman into a room and lock the door, German police said Saturday. The gunman killed himself a few minutes later as police stormed the building.

Students and teachers identified the killer as Robert Steinhaeuser, 19. He was expelled this year for forging absentee excuse notes, police said.

In a country where concern over firearms has focused primarily on illegal weapons, the revelation that Steinhaeuser owned his guns legally and belonged to two gun clubs added to the shock of the crime, which left this eastern state capital deep in mourning Saturday.

"I think young people shouldn't have the possibility to have weapons," said Hans Mueller, 75, among hundreds who stood in line at City Hall to sign a condolence book. "The whole city is sad that such an incident had to happen here."

Britain adopted some of the world's toughest gun-control laws after a weapons enthusiast killed 16 students and their teacher with legally owned handguns in Dunblane, Scotland, in 1996.

History teacher Heise told Germany's ZDF television that during Friday's shooting, he took refuge in a storage room, locking the door, but that he opened the door when he heard shuffling outside because he thought that it was a student. He found himself facing a pistol held by someone dressed in black "like a ninja fighter."

"I looked into the barrel," Heise recalled. "Simultaneously, with his left hand, he took off his mask. I said, 'Robert!' "

Defenseless, Heise continued speaking to the former student, he said: "Fire! You can shoot me too now . . . [but] look into my eyes."

"Steinhaeuser replied: 'No. That's enough for today, Mr. Heise,' " he recalled. Heise then told him that they had to talk and that he should come into the room. As Steinhaeuser let down his guard, "I pushed him into the room, closed the door and locked it," Heise said. "I didn't have time to be afraid."

Police initially did not reveal the gunman's identity. But Steinhaeuser's home here in Erfurt, the capital of the state of Thuringia, was cordoned off by police Saturday, and newspapers and television carried his photograph, showing a short-haired young man with a hard stare.

Police said he fired 40 pistol shots in the deadly rampage. An additional 500 rounds of ammunition were found at the school, an indication that he was equipped to kill far more people, police said. Another 500 rounds were found at his home, all of it legal, authorities said. Although he also carried a pump-action shotgun, he fired only the handgun, police said.

"He was targeting the teachers," Bernhard Vogel, the Thuringia state governor, told a news conference Saturday. "Investigators confirmed to me that he was a skilled shooter. You can see that from the many shots to the head."

Somber visitors placed hundreds of bouquets in front of Johann Gutenberg secondary school, where 13 school employees, two students and one policeman died.

Police said that they believe there was only one gunman but that they are investigating claims that a second killer was seen or heard firing in the school. Vogel appeared unconvinced that Steinhaeuser had acted alone.

The only comparable mass murder in Germany's post-World War II history was a terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics that left 11 Israeli athletes and officials and a West German policeman dead.

Authorities initially reported 18 deaths in Friday's slaughter, including the gunman, but police said Saturday that a female teacher thought to be dead when taken from the school had survived. Ten people were injured in the shooting, none critically, police said Saturday.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his wife, Doris Schroeder-Kopf, flew to Erfurt to place flowers at the school and attend an evening church service.

"All explanations fail," Joachim Wanke, the local bishop, told 2,000 people at the service. "I pray together with you for the dead. I mourn together with you, the next of kin. I mourn with you, my city of Erfurt, which also has been hit by yesterday's shots."

Jane Kloeppel, 13, a student from another school who was among the mourners in front of the Johann Gutenberg building, said she came even though she didn't know any of the victims. "It doesn't matter if you know them or not," she said, tears falling down her cheeks. "The whole city is shocked. . . . I just can't believe that young people like him can go to shooting clubs and get training. It's pure craziness."

Edmund Stoiber, the conservative challenger to Schroeder in national elections scheduled this year, reacted to the killings with a call for a ban on violent video and computer games.

Amid the flowers piled outside City Hall was a photograph of one of the teachers with a message from her daughter: "Why did you have to die? Nobody deserved this. Mama, I love you and I always loved you, no matter how hard the times were. I love you. Your Franziska."

*

Special correspondent Petra Falkenberg contributed to this report.

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