HAMBURGO, Germany (AP) — Un antiguo miembro de los Testigos de Jehová mató a seis personas a tiros en una sala de la congregación en la ciudad alemana de Hamburgo antes de quitarse la vida tras la llegada de la policía al lugar, dijeron las autoridades Friday.
Among the dead was an unborn baby, police said, without specifying whether the mother was among the victims. Eight other people were injured, four of them seriously.
For the moment, the reason for the shooting that occurred Thursday evening, which shocked the second city of the country, was unknown, but the prosecution indicated that there was no evidence of terrorist links.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, described the incident as “a brutal act of violence”.
According to the city’s top security official, officers arrived at the scene just minutes after receiving the first warning call at 9:04 p.m.
A nearby special operations unit arrived five minutes later and was able to separate the shooter from the rest of the congregation, Hamburg state interior minister Andy Grote said.
“Presumably they saved many lives,” he added at a news conference in which he described the shooting as “the worst crime our city has seen in recent memory.”
Authorities said the shooter was a 35-year-old German identified only as Philipp F., in accordance with the country’s privacy laws. During the attack, he fired over 100 bullets.
Hamburg Police Chief Ralf Martin Meyer said the man had a weapons license and legally owned a semi-automatic pistol. The suspect had already been investigated by authorities, who had been advised of his fitness to bear arms, but no offenses were detected, he added.
The officers who responded to the scene of the shooting did not fire their weapons, a department spokesperson said.
In Germany, gun laws are more restrictive than in the United States, but lax compared to other European countries, and shootings are not unusual.
Last year, an 18-year-old opened fire at a mass lecture at the University of Heidelberg, killing one person and injuring three others before killing himself. In January 2020, a man shot dead six people, including his parents, and injured two others in the south-west of the country, and a month later a gunman who posted racist speech online killed him on nine people near Frankfurt.
In the latest shootings at places of worship, a far-right radical tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day, in October 2019. To no avail, he shot dead two people who were nearby.
David Semonian, a spokesperson for the United States-based Jehovah’s Witnesses, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement early Friday that members “around the world mourn the victims of this traumatic event.”
“Local congregation elders are providing pastoral care to those affected by the events, he wrote. We understand that the details of this crime are still being investigated by authorities. We appreciate the help bravery provided by police and emergency services.
The scene of the shooting was the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a modern three-story building located next to an auto repair shop.
Laura Bauch, a student who lives near the site, said “there were about four shooting periods”, according to German news agency dpa. “There were always multiple shots during these periods, at intervals of about 20 seconds to minutes.”
He said he looked out the window and saw a person running from the ground floor to the second floor of the Jehovah’s Witness compound.
Gregor Miesbach, who can see the building from where he lives, was alerted by the sound of gunfire and filmed a person entering the building through a window. Then gunshots started to be heard from inside. Afterwards, the person apparently leaves the scene, is seen in the yard and fires more shots inside.
Miesbach told TV news channel NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 gunshots. After police arrived, a final shot was heard about five minutes later, he said.
His recording, published in the online edition of the Bild newspaper, showed a person firing several shots into the building through a first-story window before the lights in the room went out.
Police had no information about the event unfolding at the scene when the shooting occurred or possible motive. Vehren said “the background remains completely unknown.”
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher tweeted that the news was “shocking” and offered his condolences to the families of the victims.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church founded in the United States in the 19th century, with headquarters in Warwick, New York. They say they have around 8.7 million members worldwide and around 170,000 in Germany.
Its members are known for their evangelistic efforts, including door-to-door outreach and the distribution of literature in public squares. Among the church’s distinctive practices are the refusal to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag, or serve in a secular government.
Moulson reported from Berlin. Associated Press writers David Rising in Bangkok and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this report.
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