Ambulance cars stand ready as police officers block a street near the Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school in Belgrade, Serbia, 03 May 2023. A teenage suspect opened fire causing one fatality and multiple injuries according to Serbia's Interior ministry.
Gunman opens fire at Belgrade elementary school, Serbia - 03 May 2023
Teenager opens fire at a school in Serbia
03:26 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

A 13-year-old boy opened fire on his classmates at a school in the Serbian capital Belgrade on Wednesday, rocking the Balkan country.

The shooting left at least eight children dead, along with a security guard. While Serbia is awash with guns, mass shootings like these are rare.

Here’s what we know.

How it happened

The horrific events unfolded early in the school day on Wednesday, at Vladislav Ribnikar Elementary School, a well-known institution in Vračar, an upscale area of the Serbian capital.

After arriving at school, the suspect “immediately pulled the pistol out of his bag” and shot the school’s security guard, Belgrade’s police chief Veselin Milić.

“He then he went to the on-duty staff member and sat down at his desk like he did nothing wrong. There was one girl at her desk, another at the piano. He took their lives.”

The suspect then walked towards a history classroom, shooting as he moved down the corridor, before entering the room and shooting the teacher and his fellow students from the doorway, Milić said.

Parents gathered quickly outside the school.

“He left the classroom, went out into the schoolyard, releasing the magazine from the weapon, throwing it down the steps.” The suspect called the police himself and waited until he was arrested in the yard, officials said.

Seven girls and one boy were killed, Milić said. A further six children and one teacher have been hospitalized, according to Serbia’s Ministry of Internal Affairs.

Who is the suspect?

The boy was a student at the school, authorities said.

He had two guns in his possession, the Serbian interior minister added at a press conference.

“The parent had several pieces of weapon and kept them locked up. The safe had a code. Obviously the kid had the code as soon as he managed to get hold of those two guns. And three frames full of 15 bullets each,” Bratislav Gasic said.

Separately, Milić said the boy had a 9mm pistol as well as a small calibre pistol in a bag, as well as four Molotov cocktails.

The alleged shooter was filmed being taken from the school in handcuffs with a jacket over his head and wearing blue, skinny jeans.

The prosecutor’s office said that boy’s blood was taken for toxicological analysis to determine whether he was under the influence of alcohol, narcotics, or other psychoactive substances at the time of the shooting.

“All the circumstances of this case, how he got the gun, as well as the motives of this heinous crime are being investigated,” the statement said.

The suspect’s parents were arrested on Wednesday. Gasic said it was known that the father had previously gone to a shooting range with his son.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said the suspect did not show remorse for the shooting.

The suspect was led away by police.

What will happen to the suspect?

The suspect will not be held criminally responsible as he has not reached the age of 14, the Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office in Belgrade said in a statement.

The prosecutor’s office said this aligns with Serbian law; it added that the boy’s father was ordered to be detained for up to 48 hours on “suspicion of having committed the criminal offense of Serious Offenses against General Security.”

It remains unclear what further action will be taken against the suspect. Lawyers for Belgrade’s Education Union, Aleksandra Bevenja and Vladimir Božić, told CNN affiliate N1 that primary school students are not expelled even for a “serious violation” in Serbia.

But N1 reported that a child can be transferred to another school if the new facility approves the move.

What has the reaction been?

The shooting has rocked Serbia and sparked a national conversation about the country’s laws.

President Vucic suggested at a press conference on Wednesday that the government should consider lowing the country’s age of criminal responsibility to 12.

He justified his suggestion by arguing that “children are in present times becoming adults earlier” and added that the government would need to consult respected lawyers and international laws when considering his suggestion.

Vucic added that officials have “doubts that this boy knew he wouldn’t be prosecuted.”

Vucic also suggested mandatory anti-drug tests in schools every six months and said the government would work to have more police officers in schools.

Education Minister Branko Ruzic said the “cancerous, pernicious influence of internet video games of so-called western values is evident, and it is clear to all of us that a major turnaround is needed.”

Three days of mourning have been declared in Serbia and other European countries have sent their condolences.

But the incident also prompted anger. Crowds of protesters gathered in Belgrade and chanted “resignation” at a vigil in front of Serbia’s Ministry of Education late on Wednesday.

How rare is this shooting?

Serbia, a southern European country of nearly 7 million people, has more than 2,700,000 guns in private ownership – a huge ratio that is a legacy of years of conflict in the 1990s.

Only 44% of those guns are officially registered, according to a 2018 analysis by the Small Arms Survey.

This means there are 39 guns for every 100 Serbians, the data project at the Geneva Graduate Institute found. It is the highest level of civilian gun ownership in Europe, and the fifth-highest in the world. More than 1.5 million guns that people in Serbia own are unregistered, data shows.

And yet shootings of this kind are comparatively rare, due in large part to the country’s strict gun laws and amnesties for owners who hand in or register illegal firearms, according to Reuters.

CNN’s Josh Pennington, Amy Croffey and Radina Gigova contributed reporting.