WINNENDEN – Flags flew at half mast across Germany on Thursday as the numbed nation mourned the 15 mainly women victims of a teenage gunman in a picturesque town.
Hundreds of candles were left outside the school in Winnenden where 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer picked off nine teenagers and three teachers before killing three other people in the town then turned the gun on himself after he was surrounded by police.
Churches were packed for special services held late Wednesday and dozens of people held a vigil outside the school on what Chancellor Angela Merkel called "a day of mourning for all of Germany."
"Our thoughts go out to the families and the friends. We are thinking of you and we are praying for you," she added.
The front page of the local paper, the Winnenden Zeitung, was just a blank black page on Thursday, with a single word: "Why?"
The same question was being asked on the streets and in the churches of the town north of Stuttgart.
Heidi Loebe, a saleswoman told AFP: "There is more violence than there was 10 years ago. I do not understand it. This is a boy who had finished his studies and begun a training course."
Police have given no motive for the slaughter. Eleven of his 12 victims at the school were female, and nearly all were expertly shot in the head.
Kretschmer went into one classroom three times, the Bild daily said. On the third visit he told the class: "Aren’t you all dead yet?" A teacher threw herself in front of a female pupil – and was shot by the gunman, Bild said.
Heribert Rech, interior minister of the southern state of Baden-Wuerttemberg said there was nothing to indicate that the teenager held a grudge against the school.
After leaving in 2008, Kretschmer had enrolled on a course to train as a salesman. He regularly worked out at the gym and belonged to a sports club.
"He was completely unremarkable, there was nothing in his background to suggest this could have happened," the minister said.
Kretschmer came from a prosperous family. His father is a successful businessman who employs 150 people, according to media reports. His parents and sister, still in shock, have been taken to a secret location, German television reported.
However, he found it difficult to fit in at school and had few friends. "He was simply not accepted by anyone and just sat all day in front of his computer," a school colleague identified at Mario told German television station N24.
Reports also say he was obsessed with computer shooting games and had become a crack shot. It appears most of his victims died from accurate shots to the head.
His father owned over a dozen guns, all locked away except the nine millimetre Beretta that caused the carnage.
Rech said Kretschmer had "destroyed the soul of an entire school and ripped into the heart of a town."
The rampage ended in the car park of a shopping centre about 30 kilometres from his home town.
Cornered in the car park, there was a shootout between the teenager and the police in which he was shot in the leg, Rech said.
"He fell down, got up again and reloaded his gun. He was found soon afterwards dead," Rech said. State police chief Erwin Hetger said it was believed he then turned the gun on himself.
After the screams and sirens of yesterday, a stunned silence reigned over Winnenden on Wednesday night. The city centre was empty and there was hardly anyone on the streets.
"We have perhaps all failed," one man, a tax advisor, told AFP. "The big question now is: why did he do it?"
AFP / Expatica