Germany in mourning for victims of school massacre

23rd March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Chancellor Angela Merkel was also present in the packed church, where large white candles burned on the altar, each bearing the name of one of the victims.

Winnenden -- Thousands of people converged on the grieving German town of Winnenden Saturday for a memorial service for the 15 victims of a shooting spree by a 17-year-old.

"All Germany mourns with you," President Horst Koehler told a congregation of 900, including families of the victims, at an ecumenical service in a Catholic church.

Chancellor Angela Merkel was also present in the packed church, where large white candles burned on the altar, each bearing the name of one of the victims.

"Each child is born innocent, and when a child dies, it is hope and the future which dies too," Koehler said, calling for curbs on the kind of violent video games believed to have influenced the teenage gunman, Tim Kretschmer.

All flags across the southwestern Baden-Wuerttemberg region and beyond flew at half mast and bells were tolled at 0945 GMT.

Around 20 giant screens had been erected in the open air to transmit the service live, including in a stadium able to seat up to 30,000 people.

Police had said earlier they expected that up to 100,000 would be in the town for the event but in the event they put the numbers at 7,500 "at least".

Koehler backed families of the victims who appealed in an open letter for tighter gun control laws and a ban on violent video games of the kind which Kretschmer regularly played.

He said there should be restrictions on the spread of "the innumerable films and videogames of extreme violence, with their display of dead bodies," while individuals should be able to "say no to what they feel to be bad."

Kretschmer is believed to have spent two hours playing a shooting video game the evening before going on the rampage with a pistol belonging to his father at his former school on March 11.

He killed nine students and three teachers then hijacked a van and forced the driver to go 40 kilometres (25 miles) with a gun in his back, telling him what he had done was "fun".

Kretschmer then shot dead three more passers-by in another town before being cornered by police, when he turned the gun on himself.

In their open letter addressed to Merkel and Koehler, the families of five of the victims said: "Despite our pain and anger, we can't just do nothing. We want to make sure there is not another Winnenden."

They called for teenagers to be denied access to guns, for violent videos to be banned and violence on television to be restricted by the introduction of quotas taking into account the hours when children are likely to be viewing.

They also wanted killers not to be identified so as to stop them being glorified. "This is crucial to prevent copycat killings," they said in the letter published by the local newspaper, Winnender Zeitung.

The entrance to Albertville secondary school was a carpet of flowers and wreaths and candles on Saturday.

Students from the school all wore the same black T-shirt bearing the words of Martin Luther King, "Ich habe einen Traum" (I have a dream).

The school, which has remained shut since the killings, was due to reopen its doors to its 600 students on Monday.

Many shops had their shutters down with signs saying "We are in mourning with you."

Ten days after the event, it was still not clear Saturday why Kretschmer had acted as he did. Focus magazine reported that he had told staff in a psychiatric clinic where he was treated last year that he "hated everyone."

Juergen Oeder/AFP/Expatica

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