‘Eight dead' in shooting at Jehovah's Witness hall in Germany
Eight people died in a shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness hall in Germany, police said.
A number of people were hurt, some of them seriously.
There is still no word on a possible motive for Thursday evening’s shooting, which has stunned Hamburg, the nation’s second-biggest city.
Germany Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, described a “brutal act of violence”.
Overnight, police said one of the people found dead may have been the sole gunman.
Officers reached the hall while the attack was ongoing and heard one more shot after they arrived, according to witnesses and authorities. They did not use their own firearms, a police spokesman said.
The head of Germany’s GdP police union in Hamburg, Horst Niens, said he is convinced the swift arrival of a special operations unit “distracted the perpetrator and may have prevented further victims”.
Germany’s gun laws are more restrictive than those in the United States but permissive compared to some European neighbours and shootings are not unheard of.
Last year, an 18-year-old man opened fire in a packed lecture theatre at Heidelberg University, killing one person and hurting three others before killing himself. In January 2020, a man shot dead six people including his parents and wounded two others in southwestern Germany, while a month later, a shooter who posted a racist rant online killed nine people near Frankfurt.
In the most recent shooting involving a site of worship, a far-right extremist tried to force his way into a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day, in October 2019. After failing to gain entry, he shot two people to death nearby.
The German government announced plans last year to crack down on gun ownership by suspected extremists and to tighten background checks. Currently, anyone wanting to acquire a firearm must show that they are suited to do so, including by proving that they require a gun. Reasons can include being part of a sports shooting club or being a hunter.
On Friday morning, forensic investigators in protective white suits could be seen outside the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, a boxy, three-storey building next to a car repair shop, a few miles from Hamburg city centre. As light snow fell, officers placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.
David Semonian, a US-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in an emailed statement early on Friday that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event”.
“The congregation elders in the local area are providing pastoral care for those affected by the event,” he wrote.
Police spokesman Holger Vehren said police were alerted to the shooting on Thursday night and at the scene quickly.
The officers found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor and then heard a shot from an upper floor, where they found a fatally wounded person who may have been the shooter, he said.
They did not fire their weapons.
Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said there were around four periods of shooting, German news agency dpa reported.
“There were always several shots in these periods,” she said.
Ms Bauch said she looked out her window and saw a person running upstairs from the hall’s ground floor.
Gregor Miebach, who lives within sight of the building, heard shots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window.
In his footage, shots can then be heard from inside. The figure later apparently emerges from the hall, is seen in the courtyard and then fires more shots through a window before the lights in the room go out.
Mr Miebach told German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 shots. After police arrived, one last shot followed, he said.
His mother, Dorte Miebach, said she was shocked by the shooting. “It’s really 50 meters from our house and many people died,” she said.
“This is still incomprehensible. We still haven’t quite come to terms with it.”
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church founded in the United States in the 19th century. It claims a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany.
Members are known for their evangelistic efforts, which include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. They refuse to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag or participate in secular governments.