German Teen Killer Legally Held Cache of Weapons
Apr 27 2002 2:34PM
ERFURT, Germany (Reuters) - A student responsible for Germany's worst post-war massacre was a gun club marksman who shot many of his 16 victims in the head at close range before an unarmed teacher stopped him, police said on Saturday.
Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, ran amok in his former school on Friday, firing 40 rounds from a pistol in a 20-minute frenzy of revenge for being expelled, before killing himself.
He was also carrying a legally owned pump-action shotgun, but did not use it in his killing spree which was apparently cut short by the steely courage of a teacher who knew him.
German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder flew to Erfurt, 320 km (200 miles) south of Berlin, on Saturday and laid flowers in front of the Johann Gutenberg school where Steinhaeuser shot dead 13 teachers, two pupils and a policeman.
Ten other people were wounded in the attack.
Schroeder also joined 2,000 other mourners at a mass in the city's 12th-century cathedral. The shock that has gripped country since the attack, which national media have already started calling "Germany's September 11," was clear on his face.
"This horrible deed has left us lost and full of grief," Bishop Joachim Wanke said.
Police said Steinhaeuser, clad in black and disguised by a black mask, had access to enough ammunition to kill hundreds of people.
Details emerged on Saturday of the bravery of one teacher who trapped the killer in a classroom, possibly preventing an even higher death toll.
The teacher, Rainer Heise, told Germany's ZDF television that he had grabbed the youth's shirt and tried to talk to him.
"He then pulled off his mask and I said 'Robert?'," Heise said, calling it a Ninja-style mask.
"I said go ahead and shoot me, but look me in the face."
Steinhaeuser replied: "That's it for today," and briefly let down his guard, Heise said.
"I pushed him into the room and locked the door."
Steinhaeuser shot himself in the head shortly thereafter.
"(Heise) showed a lot of courage," a police spokesman said.
Police said on Saturday that Steinhaeuser had licenses for both weapons, and for two more that he was not carrying.
"Many of the victims were killed with headshots, he clearly was a trained marksman," said Bernhard Vogel, premier of the state of Thuringia. Erfurt, a town of 197,000, is its capital.
The killing has prompted Germany to question the wisdom of its gun laws under which 10 million weapons are legally held.
It has also led to calls for tighter rules on violent computer games and videos of the type police found in Steinhaeuser's home.
In a sign that the bloodbath may feature in the campaign for national elections this year, Edmund Stoiber, conservative challenger to Schroeder, said violent games should be banned.
Shock and fear in Erfurt was compounded on Saturday by uncertainty about whether Steinhaeuser had acted alone.
Police said they believed he had been on his own but were investigating eyewitness accounts of two gunmen rampaging through the school.
CAREFULLY PLANNED ASSAULT
Photos of Steinhaeuser on the front pages of newspapers show a pale-faced, short-haired, ordinary-looking young man with a hard stare.
He had failed to qualify with the rest of his class to take the rigorous school-leaving examination last year and was forced to repeat the final year, but was expelled in February for forging absentee excuse notes.
He lived with his mother, a hospital nurse, in a well-kept, four-story apartment building about 10 minutes from school. His parents are separated.
Based on comments from former classmates, teachers and other people who knew Steinhaeuser, it appeared he had carefully planned the assault in advance.
Police said they were checking reports he sent a fellow pupil a mobile phone message warning him not to come to school that day.
Police said the gunman shot himself as armed police moved in on him. They also said they had found another 500 bullets stashed in a bathroom that they believed the assailant had planted and planned to use before killing himself.
"I never thought anything like this could ever happen in a place like Erfurt," said Thomas Rethfeldt, 18, whose teacher was shot in the head as she opened the door at the start of the shooting.
"I thought this must be a bad film. I thought this kind of thing only happened in America."
The scale of the murder, rivaling some of the worst school killings ever, stunned Germans, who long felt they had some of the toughest gun-control laws in the world and were removed from the type of wanton violence that has haunted the United States