The suspect in the shooting dead of seven people at a Jehovah’s Witness centre in Hamburg is reported to have been a former member of the church.
The man, who was found dead at the scene, is believed to have been aged between 30 and 40 and to have used a handgun after forcing himself into the building close to the city centre.
One of those killed was said by the Hamburg Abendblatt newspaper to have been pregnant, although police in Hamburg were not confirming the identities of any of those involved on Friday morning as forensics teams continued to sweep the area for clues.
The paper also reported that the suspected perpetrator, who was said to have emptied one of several magazines of bullets in the shooting, had been ejected from the church about 18 months ago for reasons unknown.
Hamburg police said: “Eight people were fatally injured, apparently including the suspected perpetrator,” adding that several other people were injured, “some seriously”.
A coffin was ushered into the Jehovah’s Witnesses centre at 11am on Friday as a crowd of TV cameras and reporters watched on, sheltering under umbrellas from heavy snow. A number of stretchers were also taken into the pebble-dashed three-storey building as the police reopened nearby roads to traffic.
Hamburg has not had an incident as serious for decades and the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, described it as a “brutal act of violence”.
He tweeted: “Bad news from Hamburg. Several members of a Jehovah’s Church fell victim to a brutal act of violence last night. My thoughts are with them and their families. And with the security forces, who have had a difficult deployment.”
France’s president, Emmanuel Macron, also expressed his dismay. “Terrible news from Hamburg. I send France’s condolences to the families of the victims and to all our German friends. Our thoughts are with them,” he tweeted.
David Semonian, a US-based spokesperson for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event”.
As news of the shooting emerged, police said a major operation was under way in the Gross Borstel district of the city. Several streets were sealed off and the public were warned by text message to avoid the area. Local people were told to stay indoors and only to use their phones “in extreme emergency” so as not to overburden the network.
Police from a specialised armed unit were by chance already near the scene when the shooting happened, local media reported. They were on their way back to accommodation at their headquarters in Alsterdorf when they heard gunshots.
Heiko Sander, a reporter for the local broadcaster NDR, told the news service Tagesschau that the police nearby acted after hearing several shots being fired. They entered the building and started evacuating people, Sander said.
ppened, local media reported. Photograph: Jonas Walzberg/AP
When officers arrived at the scene they found several people seriously injured and some dead. “Then they heard a shot from above, they went upstairs and found one further person,” a police spokesperson said.
An unnamed witness said he heard shots being fired. “There were 12 continuous shots … then we saw how people were taken away in black bags,” he told local media.
A 23-year-old witness named Lara Bauch said she heard “about four firing periods. During these periods, several shots were always fired, approximately 20 seconds to one minute apart.”
She looked out of the window “and saw a person running hectically from the ground floor to the first floor at the Jehovah’s Witnesses”. She said the services at the centre have always been very well attended and that the crowd was a mix of “families, older people, younger people”.
About 175,000 people in Germany are Jehovah’s Witnesses, including 3,800 in Hamburg. The Christian movement, founded in the US in the late 19th century, preaches non-violence and is known for door-to-door evangelism.
The mayor of Hamburg, Peter Tschentscher, said: “I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. Police are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background.”
Germany has been rocked by several mass shootings in recent years. In February 2020, a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central city of Hanau. And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.
Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report
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