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Mourning for victims of German school rampage

An unidentified man sets a candle among the flowers at the entrance of the Gutenberg high school early Saturday.
An unidentified man sets a candle among the flowers at the entrance of the Gutenberg high school early Saturday.  

ERFURT, Germany -- Throughout the night and into Saturday, shocked and grieving residents in the German city of Erfurt laid flowers and candles outside the school where a shooting rampage left 18 dead.

A special church service was held Friday night hours after the shooting and flags were lowered to half-staff.

Two female pupils, 13 teachers, a school secretary and a police officer were shot to death by a recently expelled student. Another six people were wounded, police said.

They refused to identify the shooter.

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"We cannot find words for what we feel in Germany right now," President Johannes Rau said, according to The Associated Press. "Germany is in mourning in the face of these incomprehensible events."

Gunman sought out adults

The gunman, dressed all in black and armed with a handgun and a pump-action gun, searched corridors, rooms and toilets inside the school, seeking out adults and then gunning them down, police chief Manfred Grube told a news conference.

The bodies were scattered in hallways, classrooms and bathrooms. The dead police officer was shot earlier before the school was stormed, police told CNN.

The attack began at about 11 a.m. local time (0900 GMT) Friday.

Describing the scene at the Gutenberg Gymnasium School as a "picture of horror," Grube said the 19-year-old gunman fled German special forces as they stormed the building, and then shot himself in a classroom.

Police were fired upon when they first entered the school. They retreated and formed a blockade around it.

Police told The Associated Press the gunman was found with 500 rounds of ammunition.

Plea for help taped to window

Weeping students fled the school, and anxious parents gathered outside.

"I heard shooting and thought it was a joke," Melanie Steinbrueck, 13, told The Associated Press. "But then I saw a teacher dead in the hallway in front of Room 209 and a gunman in black carrying a weapon." (More eyewitness accounts)

Juliane Blank, 13, added: "The guy was dressed all in black -- gloves, cap, everything was black.

The 19-year-old gunman, pictured here, dressed in black during the shooting.  

"He must have opened the door without being heard and forced his way into the classroom. We ran out into the hallways. We just wanted to get out."

"It was chilling. I saw this big placard with the word 'Help' on it taped to a window and people moving around behind it, but I couldn't tell if they were children or attackers," a witness told German broadcaster RTL.

A room-by-room search of the school was carried out following reports a second gunman was involved in the shooting, but police believe the gunman acted alone and was spotted by different pupils as he moved to various areas of the school.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's said he was "staggered" by the shooting, and cancelled an election campaign scheduled to begin on Saturday. "It is such an event our imagination is incapable of dealing with it," he said.

Local journalist Thomas Rothbart told CNN there was "deep, deep grief in the city."

"All the political parties in Germany are in grief with the city."

Shooting on day when gun laws tightened

Students, parents and members of staff hugged each other outside the school, weeping hysterically in the aftermath of the shooting. Scores were treated for shock by doctors and psychologists.

Hundreds of armed police wearing bulletproof vests sealed off the building. A tent was set up nearby where parents were informed of the whereabouts of their children.

About 750 students aged between 10 and 19 are enrolled at the school, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in December.

Help signs
Some people inside the building posted signs asking for help.  

The shooting came just hours before the German parliament approved a new bill tightening the country's already strict gun controls. (Full story)

Germany already has strict laws governing the right to a gun, but experts say the country is awash with illegal weapons smuggled into the country from eastern Europe and the Balkans.

People wanting to buy a hunting rifle must undergo checks that can last a year, while those wanting a gun for sport must be a member of a club and obtain a license from the police.

Interior Minister Otto Schily said there was not much to be happy about on this day, but that he was glad the new tougher gun control legislation passed "with a broad majority in parliament."

"The aim of law is to strengthen and to sharpen the (existing) laws," Schily said, but added the danger was from illegal weapons, not legal ones.

Erfurt, a town of nearly 200,000 people in former communist East Germany, was founded in the 13th century and was once home to theologian Martin Luther.

In February, a 22-year-old German who recently lost his job shot and killed two former bosses and his old high school's principal in a rampage outside Munich.


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