German shooter kills 6 in Hamburg’s Jehovah’s Witness Hall
Hamburg, Germany — A gunman stormed a ward at his former Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Germany, killing six people before killing himself after police arrived, authorities in the port city of Hamburg said on Friday.
Police gave no motive for Thursday night’s attack. But they acknowledged recently receiving an anonymous tip that the man identified as the shooter had shown anger toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and may be psychologically unfit to own a firearm.
Eight people were injured, including a 28-week pregnant woman who lost the baby. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the death toll could rise.
According to witnesses and authorities, officers apparently arrived at the venue as the attack continued and heard another gunshot. They did not fire their weapons, but officials said their intervention likely prevented further loss of life in the square building next to an auto repair shop a few kilometers (miles) from downtown.
Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, said the city was “speechless at this violence” and “mourned those whose lives were taken so brutally”.
All the victims were German citizens with the exception of two injured women, one of Ugandan nationality and the other of Ukrainian nationality.
Officials said the alleged attacker was a 35-year-old German identified only as Philipp F., in accordance with the country’s privacy rules. Police said he left the congregation “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms”, about a year and a half ago.
A website registered in the name of a person who matches the police description says he grew up in the Bavarian town of Kempten in “a strict religious evangelical household”.
The website, filled with commercial jargon, also links to a self-published book on “God, Jesus Christ and Satan.”
Philipp F. legally owned a semi-automatic Heckler & Koch Pistole P30, according to police. He fired more than 100 shots in the attack, and the head of the Hamburg prosecutor’s office, Ralf Peter Anders, said hundreds more bullets were found during a search of the apartment of man.
German gun laws are more restrictive than those in the United States, but permissive compared to some European neighbors, and shootings are not unheard of.
Last year, an 18-year-old man opened fire at a lecture at the University of Heidelberg, killing one person and injuring three others before killing himself. In 2020, the country has seen two high-profile shootings, one that killed six people and another that left nine dead.
In the latest shooting involving a place of worship, a far-right extremist tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur in 2019. After failing to enter, he shot dead two people nearby.
The German government last year announced plans to crack down on gun ownership by suspected extremists and tighten background checks. Currently, anyone who wishes to acquire a firearm must demonstrate that they are fit to do so, in particular by proving that they need a firearm. Reasons may include being part of a sports shooting club or being a hunter.
Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said the man was visited by officers after receiving an anonymous tip in January that he had “particular anger towards believers, especially towards Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer”.
Officers said the man was cooperative and found no reason to pull his weapon, according to Meyer.
“The bottom line is that anonymous advice in which someone says they fear a person may be suffering from a psychological illness is not in itself a basis for (such) measures,” he said. -he declares.
The top German security official laid a wreath outside the venue to commemorate the victims and thanked police before taking questions from reporters.
When asked if the attack could have been prevented, Interior Minister Nancy Faser said it was necessary to wait for the conclusion of the investigation, but she acknowledged that changes were needed in how background checks are carried out and information is exchanged between authorities.
She said a bill currently making its way through the legislative process would require gun owners to undergo psychological testing.
On Friday morning, forensic investigators in white protective suits could be seen outside the room. As light snow fell, officers placed yellow cones on the ground and window sills to mark the evidence.
A special operations unit that was near the venue arrived just minutes after receiving the first emergency call at 9:04 p.m., Hamburg’s top security official said. Officers managed to separate the shooter from the congregation.
“We can assume that they saved many people’s lives in this way,” Hamburg state interior minister Andy Grote told reporters.
Upon arrival, officers found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, then heard a gunshot from an upper floor, where they found a fatally injured person believed to be the shooter, according to the police spokesman Holger Vehren.
Gregor Miebach, who lives near the building, heard gunshots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window. In his footage, gunshots can then be heard from inside. The figure later seemingly emerges from the lobby, is seen in the courtyard, and then fires more shots through a first floor window before the lights in the room go out.
Miebach told German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 gunshots. After police arrived, a final gunshot followed, he said.
Her mother, Dorte Miebach, said she was shocked by the shooting. “It’s really 50 meters (yards) from our house and a lot of people died,” she said. “It’s still incomprehensible.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church founded in the United States in the 19th century and headquartered in Warwick, New York. The church claims a worldwide membership of around 8.7 million, including around 170,000 in Germany.
Members are known for their evangelistic efforts that include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. The denomination’s practices include refusing to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag, or participate in secular government.
David Semonian, a U.S.-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in an emailed statement Friday that members “around the world mourn the victims of this traumatic event.”
___ Moulson and Jordans reported from Berlin. Associated Press reporter David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this report.