Shock at 'un-Dutch' mass shooting
The Netherlands was in shock Sunday after a gunman killed six people and wounded 11 in a packed shopping mall before committing suicide in an act the media dubbed "un-Dutch".
"Alphen aan den Rijn will never be the same," said one of about 5,400 messages on an electronic condolence register opened in the town where the 24-year-old man went on the rampage on Saturday.
"Why? We are incredulous and shocked," said another. "The Netherlands lost its innocence."
Gunman Tristan van der Vlis entered the De Ridderhof shopping mall in the town about 40 kilometres (25 miles) southwest of Amsterdam at around lunchtime on Saturday when it was packed with children and their parents.
Witnesses said he opened fire with an automatic firearm on shoppers and merchants, striding around without haste. Dutch authorities have not identified the victims.
The man then shot himself, taking the motive for the mass killing with him to the grave.
In a farewell letter to his parents made public overnight, Van der Vlis said he was unhappy and wanted to commit suicide but made no mention of killing others.
Dutch churches held memorial services for the victims on Sunday as the media analysed the "un-Dutch" nature of the shooting, which they said was more common in countries like the United States.
"An un-Dutch drama," the NOS public broadcaster labelled the killing.
But disaster management professor Eelco Dykstra told the station: "This type of thing can happen anywhere."
If one counted the number of mass shootings proportional to country size, Europe "is more affected than America," he said.
Dykstra lamented The Netherlands' lack of expertise in profiling potential mass killers and detecting early warning signs.
"We have many procedures and protocols on paper, but little experience in the field," he said.
Van der Vlis was a member of a shooting club and held a licence to carry five firearms.
The prosecution service said he was in trouble with the police in 2003 for contraventions of the arms and ammunitions act but the case was dropped.
A photograph of the killer was circulated on Twitter on Sunday showing a high forehead, short brown hair, high cheekbones and what appears to be a nervous smile.
Investigators combed the scene of the shooting overnight, collecting spent cartridges littered throughout the mall. The bodies of the victims were returned to their families on Sunday.
The police continue to appeal through the media for photos and videos of the shooting.
Police in the eastern city of Rotterdam announced meanwhile they had arrested a 17-year-old who had announced on Twitter that he intended copying the shooting in his neighbourhood.
The De Ridderhof mall was closed on Sunday but inhabitants of apartments above it were allowed to return home after spending the night in a sports hall.
A silent memorial service will be held outside the mall at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT).
© 2011 AFP