Shooting leaves several dead in a church in Germany

Shooting leaves several dead in a church in Germany

Armed police near the scene of a shooting in Hamburg, Germany, on March 9, 2023, when one or more people opened fire in a church. (Jonas Walzberg/dpa via AP)

BERLIN (AP) — Several people were killed and injured in a shootout at a building used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the northern German city of Hamburg, police said.

“We only know that several people died here; several others are injured, they have been taken to hospitals,” Holger Vehren, a police spokesman, said of the shooting in the Gross Borstel district of the country’s second-largest city.

The spokesman said he had no information on the severity of the injuries of the injured. Police did not confirm German media reports which, without citing sources, said there were six or seven dead.

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.

In a Twitter update early Friday, Hamburg police said they believed there was only one shooter, noting that security forces were gradually withdrawing from the area.

“The investigation into the motive for the crime is continuing,” he added.

Hamburg security officials said they will hold a press conference on Friday afternoon to offer more information.

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.

Vehren said police received a report of the shooting around 9:15 p.m. and quickly arrived on the scene.

Officers found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, heard a gunshot on one of the upper floors and found a person with a fatal wound, who may have been the shooter , he added, noting that they had not used their firearms.

According to Vehren, there was no indication that the shooter was fleeing and it seemed likely that he was in the building or one of the dead.

During the night, forensic investigators, dressed in protective suits, could be seen working in the building.

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.


Associated Press writer David Rising in Bangkok contributed to this report.

Melissa Galbraith
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