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School Shooting Leaves 17 Dead in Germany

Aired April 26, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



COLLEEN MCEDWARDS, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): An expelled student exacts a bloody revenge. Germany reels from one of the worst school shootings in memory.


(on camera): Hello and welcome to INSIGHT. I'm Colleen McEdwards, in for Jonathan Mann.

Students at the Guttenberg High School in the eastern German town of Erfurt had gathered to sit for their final exams in silence. But that silence was broken by gunfire as a former student with a grudge stalked the corridors.

When it was over, the 19 year old and killed 14 staff members, 2 students, a police officer and himself.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the attack exceeded one's powers of imagination.

On INSIGHT today, Erfurt's agony.

But first, I want to give you a quick look at the latest headlines.

United Nations Sect. Gen. Kofi Annan says he wants the United Nations fact finding team to Jenin to travel to the Middle East as scheduled on Saturday. But in the last few hours, Israel has again requested a delay in the arrival of the team.

The team is supposed to find out what happened during the fighting in the Jenin refugee camp.

In another development, there is still no end to the standoff at the Church of the Nativity, but Palestinian sources say four men have left the church and turned themselves in to Israeli authorities.

They also say two people inside were seriously wounded by Israeli sniper fire.

Elsewhere in the West Bank, Israeli troops broke up a group of Palestinian demonstrators with live fire and stun grenades. The protesters wee marching through the streets of Ramallah. There has been no word on injuries there.

Two more people have been killed and 30 wounded in Hindu-Muslim violence in India's western state of Gujarat. Authorities clamped down on new curfews and brought in the army to quell the violence, but angry mobs have been turning on those trying to keep the peace.

Muslims accuse the police of failing to protect them, but the police say they have been able to save hundreds of lives.

Religious violence has struck a Shiite Muslim mosque in Pakistan, killing 12 women and children and injuring more than a dozen people.

A bomb blew up in Pakistan's northern Punjab Province. Police say the bomb was connected to a timing device. So far no one has claimed responsibility.

Violence between Shiite and Suni Muslims has killed hundreds of people in Pakistan in the last several years.

Well, the former Yugoslav army chief, Gen. Dragoljub Ojdanic has pleaded not guilty to charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the war in Kosovo.

The retired general is the most senior ex-Yugoslav military official in the custody of the war crimes tribunal in the Hague. He is accused of waging a campaign of terror against ethnic Albanians in 1998 and 1999, along with former president Slobodan Milosevic and three other high-ranking officials. His trial is not expected to begin for several months.

Erfurt is a small, historic town in eastern Germany that will now have to add a new chapter to its history books, books that students at the Guttenberg High School would probably rather not read.

It was the scene Friday of a terrible attack by a disgruntled student.

James Mates has details.


JAMES MATES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It started without warning. So much so that many of the pupils thought it was a joke, until they saw a teacher lying dead in the hallway.

The first policeman called to the scene was shot dead. By the time reinforcements had the school surrounded, a teenage gunman dressed in black and armed with two handguns had killed 17.

He was a former pupil expelled from the school two weeks ago. His target, it seems, was his former teachers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The police was on the spot and they saw and heard the shooting, and one of my colleagues was killed.

MATES: In a first floor window, a pupil had posted a simple sign, one word only, hilfe, help.

For 14 teachers and 2 pupils, help came too late. The bodies were found scattered throughout the school building in classrooms, hallways, toilets.

The gunman then realizing he was surrounded turned one of his guns on himself, leaving behind the worst school shooting in Germany's post-war history.

As the injured were being treated outside the school gates, parents and pupils had gathered to console each other and to seek news. It is Germany's second school shooting in just two months, but so serious, the shock is reverberating across this nation.

The chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, immediately made a statement, speaking of his horror of the days events.

The questions begin now: what made the gunman do this, and how was he able to kill so many? Answers will be expected, quickly.

James Mates, ITV News.


MCEDWARDS: And we are hoping to hear from our correspondent in Erfurt as soon as possible.

But first, we want to bring in John Divine, who is an adviser to the National Campaign Against Youth Violence in the United States. He is familiar with a recent study on school violence in Germany schools.

Mr. Devine, thanks for being here.

Is this type of violence becoming more common in German schools?


This is quite exceptional and is an extremely rare kind of even in Germany, or across Europe for that matter. This is the kind of event that we've come to expect in the United States, unfortunately. But it certainly is not something that we've come to expect in Germany at all.

MCEDWARDS: So have you come across any research that explains why it happens in Europe? Because as you point out, it has been considered to be a very American problem.

DEVINE: Well, most of the research about school violence in the United States identifies problems such as carrying weapons to school, metal detectors, and this sort of thing.

In Germany and across Europe, in France and Britain and the Scandinavian countries and elsewhere, the research focus has been on bullying and on ways to cope with bullying in the schools. And programs have been enacted, awareness programs and so forth.

But this particular incident does not appear, at least from the little bit we know about it so far, to be exactly a bullying incident.

MCEDWARDS: There are some similarities, though. I mean, when you bring up the issue of bullying, one things of Columbine in the United States. And, I mean, in this case, the suspect is described as having been dressed in black. You had the Columbine kids in those trench coasts.

DEVINE: Yes. Well, I think there are other similarities. Remember, the students at Columbine, although they definitely were bullied by the other students in the school and they were the outcasts, so to speak, in the school, I think the most poignant example of comparison here is that in both situations, the incident ended with a suicide.

And so what we have is people who are so angry and so disturbed -- in the Columbine case, killing mainly other students, in this case killing mainly teachers -- but ending in suicide. And so you have to ask yourself what the motivations might have been.

And it's not always bullying. It could be that this person was really very, very upset and ashamed for having been expelled two weeks ago, and this would be a way of venting his anger, in this horrible way.

MCEDWARDS: Did the German study that you are familiar with in any way suggest that the nature of this violence is in some way being imported from the United States?

DEVINE: Well, the general trend, it seems to me, from what I understand about Germany, is that although it's said all over the place that violence is on the rise, the actual research studies are inconclusive, and many show that it really is not on the rise.

Is it imported from the United States? That's very, very hard to say. After Columbine, there were copy cat incidents all over the world. There was one in Raciphe (ph), Brazil, and other places, who were calling in to the United States to look on us as the most horrible example as this kind of thing.

But it could be that kind of a copy cat situation, but it's very, very hard to say, unless we get some evidence of what was in the mind of this young man.

MCEDWARDS: I was struck by the German interior minister, actually, when he said, we've got to think about this aggressiveness. Where does it come from? Where does -- what in society teaches this kind of aggressiveness?

DEVINE: Well, there have been programs, very, very wonderful prevention programs, enacted in all the various states, (UNINTELLIGIBLE) all over Germany, that are trying to cope with school violence. So Germany, in some ways, has been exemplary in trying to cope with this.

But where does this anger come from? It's very, very hard to say, but the most obvious anger would be that if a child, a young man, is ashamed because of having been expelled from school, and this triggers remembrances of the boy's early childhood, then this is the kind of thing that can eventuate into extreme aggressiveness.

And therefore, what is needed is to cope with this on a one on one basis so that this kind of a student would have someone to talk to prior to this kind of an incident taking place.

MCEDWARDS: John Devine, thank you so much. Appreciate your time today.

DEVINE: You're welcome.

MCEDWARDS: And we're going to take a short break.

We're going to speak to our correspondent who is in Erfurt in just a moment, so stay with insight. We'll be right back.


GERHARD SCHROEDER, GERMAN CHANCELLOR (through translator): I think that the whole of Germany is sympathizing and sending its condolences to the relatives of the victims. It is such a unique one off (ph) event, that all of our imagination is inadequate to deal with it. And I think that all of us, and you, need some time to reflect and to digest what has happened.



MCEDWARDS: Welcome back to INSIGHT.

You know, one German newspaper wrote, "We only know these pictures from America."

CNN's Diana Muriel joins us from much closer to home. She is in Erfurt where this attack took place -- Diana.


Tonight a town in shock, here I eastern Germany, following the massacre of 17 staff and pupils, and a police officer in this town, and indeed the gunman.

We know that the gunman has been named as Robert Stenhauser (ph). He is a 19-year-old former pupil of the school that we understand was expelled from the school some months ago, as you have probably heard.

He came to the school this morning. He entered an examination hall where students were sitting a university examination in mathematics.

He opened fire. We understand from students that he shouted first, before opening fire, "I am not going to write anything."

After having opened fire in that room, he then proceeded through some of the rest of the school, and all in all he shot dead 9 male teachers, 3 female teachers, 2 students, and he also shot dead the female deputy principle of the school and the school secretary.

When a squad car arrived just five minutes after the alert was given by the janitor of the school to the local police station, one of the police officers who entered the school was also killed. We understand that it was a double tragedy. It was the day of his daughter's birthday today.

The special operations squad was then called to the school and a massive operation was undertaken. 60 ambulances were also brought up to the school, and the special operations squad went through room by room, checking to see whether there were any more bodies and, of course, looking for the gunman.

We understand that they found bodies lying in the corridors, in the school toilets, and also in the classrooms.

We also understand that the gunman moved away from the main body of the school, into a classroom, where he killed himself early in the afternoon.

The police then said at 1:00 PM this afternoon that they had found the body. Lying next to it was a pump gun and a pistol.

I'm joined here now by a journalist who was at the school very soon after the scene.

If I could just introduce you, sir. This is Joerg Maschre.


MURIEL: Now, you arrived at about 2:30. Tell me, what did you see?

MASCHRE: A lot of pupils came out of the sports stadium and fear was painted on their faces. They cried. Their parents hold them and bring them home. It was a picture of tragedy.

MURIEL: There was some confusion at that time, wasn't there, as to whether or not there was -- how many dead there were and what exactly had happened, wasn't there? Was it a very confusing picture?

MASCHRE: Yes, of course. Nobody knows how many deaths and how many persons are dead. And it was cruel, because the police don't know what happened and...

MURIEL: A very confusing picture, then. But tell me, the gunman had two weapons, at least, with him. How difficult is it to get hold of guns? Are there lots of guns in this town?

MASCHRE: It's very difficult for him to get two guns, especially the pump gun. That's not normal for Germany. And it's a good question, where'd he get weapons, and when he get the weapons before, he must plan it. He must look for these weapons. The weapons don't lie on the street.

MURIEL: What do we know about this student and why he did this?

MASCHRE: We know that the student tried to take the exam last year at this school and he wasn't good enough. So he tried this year again, but before he came to the exam, the school dropped him out. The reason why, I don't know.

MURIEL: Joerg Maschre, thank you very much indeed.

Now, I understand that this particular school is what is for the academically elite in Germany. It prepares students for entry to some of the best universities in the country. And indeed today, some of the students were sitting at their final school certificate, the equivalent to the U.K. in A levels. The final examination before going on to university.

I'm joined now by another journalist who was working in Erfurt and came to the school very early on.

This is Florian Gaghmann. I hope I pronounced your name correctly, sir.

Tell me, when did you get here and what did you see?

FLORIAN GAGHMANN, JOURNALIST: I got here around 12:30, and when I came here, there was already a lot of police. No one really knew what had happened yet. And as time went on, there was more police coming and more police coming. And at some point, the special forces of the police just went in the building. That's what we saw.

MURIEL: And when the special forces went it, how long did it take for them to conduct their operation? And what did you learn?

GAGHMANN: Interestingly enough, it took a very long time, especially because one of the assassins was found dead, I think, around 2:00 and that was confirmed by the police at that point.

But the search of the police kept on for at least two more hours.

MURIEL: And why was that?

GAGHMANN: Because the speculation was still that it was not only one assassin, but there was a second person involved.

And it looked like the police was trying to get hold of that person, which they never did. And that's why the police is at the moment are saying that there has only been one assassin, but the speculations are that there have been two, because most of the students that we talked to said that they had seen two people with guns.

MURIEL: But no confirmation from the police of that?

GAGHMANN: No confirmation from the police of that.

MURIEL: Germany tonight, in shock. What has been the reaction across the nation?

GAGHMANN: I think the whole nation, including Chancellor Schroeder and the federal president, are in deep shock, and that I think, would anyone express what we saw tonight.

I think the country and Europe haven't experienced anything like that before, and it's just horrible.

MURIEL: Indeed, the closest thing to this was the attack in Scotland in Dunblane in 1999, when seven people were massacred as well by a gunman.

So tonight I understand in Berlin the flags are flying at half-staff above the parliament building. The nation really in shock then?

GAGHMANN: Indeed. I think even at that point, no one is capable of realizing what has happened now and how horrible this whole thing is.

MURIEL: Some of the students have said that this was not typical of this student. That this was not behavior that was like him.

GAGHMANN: What I know about this student is that he was a very normal student. He was not very intelligent, but that's not so abnormal. He was quite shy. There was nothing really...

MURIEL: A very strange occurrence.

Well, Colleen, there you have it. A very strange set of events taking place here in the town of Erfurt, which has left both the town of Erfurt and the country of Germany in shock. Back to you.

MCEDWARDS: Diana Muriel, thank you very much.

And coming up after the break, we're going to focus on gun law and gun control around the world.

Stay with us.


MCEDWARDS: Welcome back.

Germany has some of the toughest gun laws in Europe. The type of weapons used by the assailant in Erfurt would require the owner to meet strict criteria.

But as Germany's interior minister pointed out, controlling illegal arms is quite a different story.

Rebecca Peters is a senior fellow at the Open Society Institute in New York. She's an expert on international gun control.

Ms. Peters, we clearly don't know yet where these weapons came from in this case, but it's fair to say that illegal weapons are a bit of a problem in Germany, aren't they?

REBECCA PETERS, OPEN SOCIETY INST.: Yes, certainly in Germany and actually in many other European countries, where they have passed strict gun laws within the country. But a shooting like this will probably turn out to be a case of an illegal gun, which highlights the problem of there is a flood of guns which have come into European countries from other countries, often left over from the former Soviet Union, from Eastern European, from Balkan armies which have been downsized in recent years.

That has released a flood of surplus military weapons onto the market, and that is becoming a real problem for all of Europe.

MCEDWARDS: And do they track them? I mean, in Germany, for example, would anyone even know how many there are?

PETERS: No. In fact -- and Germany has a particular problem, because Germany now includes he former East Germany, which was a place where there were a lot of guns and where at the end of the Cold War, a lot of records were destroyed. There's no accounting for what happened to those guns.

But it highlights the fact that no country now can really look at this as its own national problems. Countries in Europe and in fact around the world need to be dealing with this as a global problem. It's a deadly product. It's made in one country, it kills people in another country. It's little comfort to the victims that the gun that killed them was made in another country.

This really needs governments to be working together to look at reducing the production of these weapons, collecting and destroying the surpluses, wherever they are, and working together on a comprehensive solution.

MCEDWARDS: Well, would there need to be a more standardized international gun control for that to work?

PETERS: In fact, and last year, actually, the U.N. held its first conference on this topic, in July last year, where for the first time, governments came together and also hundreds of nongovernment organizations, to say OK, this is just a pure and simple, public health, social, humanitarian problem. It's like pollution. It's like any other thing that's threatening people around the world. 500,000 people a year killed by guns, approximately.

And so the aim is to try to come up with an international convention, like we have conventions governing the production and distribution of all kinds of other dangerous products, chemicals, other kinds of weapons. I mean, international standards for production and for sale and for distribution of these other products are very well established. We need to have the same thing with guns.

And that's what increasingly governments are recognizing.

MCEDWARDS: Do you really think that would work, though? Because there is that old adage, that if someone wants something, they'll find a way to get it.

PETERS: Well, you need to remember, any time you hear the term illegal gun, every illegal gun was once legal. Guns are made in factories, they're made often for legitimate purposes in the first place, as in the case or eastern Europe, a lot of these guns were made for military purposes.

But they have left that legal market and become illegal. So the source of illegal guns is the legal gun industry.

So it means that the way that we can reduce access to illegal guns for criminals is by cutting off the supply from the legal market.

MCEDWARDS: It sounds almost like a similar problem to what they have in the United States. Of course, the gun culture is very different in the United States, but there is this patchwork of laws, not from international country to international country, but from state to state.

PETERS: That's exactly right. The notion of a patchwork is a very apt one, because one of the biggest problems in the gun laws in the United States is the laws vary. One state will have strict laws. The next state will have very permissive laws.

And so the law in the strict state is undermined by the fact that the guns can just flood across the borders from other states.

It's exactly the same situation in Europe, where you have adjacent countries with different regimes. They're not coordinated and I some places they're very loose laws. And sure enough, they begin to undermine the strict laws.

And that's why countries are recognizing that they need to work together.

MCEDWARDS: Do tight gun laws, though, seem to work? The Dunblane Scotland case is an interesting one. 1996 that happened.

And then I read a report a few years later that said there was a rise in overall gun crimes, even though Britain banned all handguns in reaction to the Dunblane incident in '96. That a few years later, gun crimes were up again.

PETERS: It's an interesting case, that British one.

One thing, when you hear about British gun crimes that you need to take into account is that what counts in Britain in a gun crime, in a lot of other countries wouldn't count.

So, for example, in Britain they have air guns, or B.B. guns as they're known in the United States, which are very often involved in bank robberies and other kinds of crimes, but which would not really be considered a gun crime in some other countries.

What we've seen in Britain is -- and actually, Britain, like other European countries, is increasingly effected by organized crime involving guns that have come out of eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.

So Britain has had a wave of shootings, drug related, gang related, with these weapons.

But what we see overall, in countries that have tighter gun laws, is much lower rates of gun violence.

I mean, looking just at Germany, where this shooting has occurred now -- the United States, compared with Germany, has about 10 times as many gun deaths as Germany...


PETERS: And if you're looking at gun homicides, the United States has 20 times the rate of gun homicides, per population, that Germany has. And that's pretty standard for Europe.

So what we do know, that stricter gun controls means that people don't have access to guns when they get angry, resentful, jealous, or whatever the circumstances that so many find themselves in.

MCEDWARDS: Understood. Rebecca Peters, thanks so much -- appreciate it.

PETERS: Thanks, Colleen.

MCEDWARDS: And that's INSIGHT. I'm Colleen McEdwards. The news continues.





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