Family motive probed after German mother's bloodbath
German investigators said Monday they believe a domestic row drove a woman to murder and torch her estranged husband and small son and kill a hospital employee before being shot dead by police.
Investigators suspect that the 41-year-old lawyer shot dead her husband and beat to death their five-year-old son when they were visiting her law practice, where she also lived, in Loerrach in southwest Germany late Sunday.
The mother, named in news reports as Sabine R., a qualified childminder and hobby markswoman with a gun licence, had separated from her husband in June, and the son lived most of the time at his father's home, police said.
"The child has no gunshot wounds but there are signs of brute force. But the exact cause of death has yet to be determined in an autopsy," Uwe Schlosser, chief prosecutor from state capital Stuttgart, told a packed news conference.
"It is suspected that relationship problems sparked this," Loerrach prosecutor Dieter Inhofer said, adding however that there was no outstanding legal dispute between the two parents over custody for their son.
After the alleged double murder, the woman then blew up the apartment, police said. The charred remains of the victims were later recovered from the smoking wreckage, reportedly along with empty petrol cans.
But just as emergency services arrived, the woman ran across the road to the Saint Elizabeth hospital, brandishing a handgun and a hunting knife, shooting two bystanders on her way and leaving them seriously injured.
One bystander, Ernst Barth, with a visible wound where a bullet had glanced off the top of his head, told the Badische Zeitung local paper that he was lucky to be alive.
"She aimed at my head, at eye level, and fired. But I moved a little bit and it missed. The difference between me being here today, and not, is two centimetres (three-quarters of an inch)," he said.
Once inside, R. headed for the hospital's gynaecological department, where she stabbed and shot dead an employee, reportedly sparking panic among patients who screamed for help and sought refuge in rooms, the cellar and on the roof.
"At first police sheltered as the woman let off off a large number of rounds. They then called on her to lay down her gun and surrender," said Michael Granzow, in charge of the police operation.
"When she refused and continued shooting, officers returned fire and shot dead the woman ... I am convinced that the officers saved a large number of lives."
Investigators were at a loss to say whether the woman bore any particular grudge against the hospital or any of its employees, although prosecutors said she suffered a miscarriage there in 2004.
"Whether that was the reason she went there we don't know. We can only say that this in the woman's past, and that it could have been the reason," Inhofer said.
Almost 400 members of the emergency services were in action on Sunday night, and part of the reason they were so well prepared was that it was in nearby Winnenden that a teenager killed 15 people and then himself in March 2009.
Tim Kretschmer, who expertly picked off most his victims with headshots, was also a keen marksman, as was his father Joerg, the owner of the 9mm Beretta used. He went on trial for manslaughter and firearms offences last week.
One police officer was also injured on Sunday. Nineteen people were evacuated from the burning apartment block and an adjacent building, 17 of whom were left with light injuries, mostly after inhaling noxious fumes.
© 2010 AFP