German town shell-shocked after shootings

14th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

One of those killed was on the grounds of a psychiatric clinic where the teenager -- an unremarkable if socially awkward youngster suffering from depression -- had been due to receive treatment.

Winnenden -- This picturesque German town was scarred forever when Tim Kretschmer, 17, took his father's gun, made his way to his old school and embarked on a killing spree.

By his actions on Wednesday, Kretschmer "destroyed the soul of an entire school and ripped into the heart of a town," said Heribert Rech, interior minister of Baden-Wuerttemberg state, which includes Winnenden.

He shot dead nine pupils -- eight girls and one boy -- and three female teachers at the school that he had left a year ago, before fleeing, hijacking a car and randomly shooting dead three bystanders.

One of those killed was in the grounds of a psychiatric clinic where the teenager -- an unremarkable if socially awkward youngster suffering from depression -- had been due to receive treatment.

Three hours later Kretschmer was dead after a manhunt -- with hundreds of police commandos supported by helicopters and dogs -- ended in a shootout 30 kilometres (20 miles) away.

More than 1,000 people filled the church in Winnenden in the hours that followed, as the town of 27,000 struggled to come to terms with the nightmare that came out of the blue to shatter their lives.

Another service was planned for Thursday.

"He should have just killed himself," pensioner Hildegard Kronbach said as she stood on the steps of the church.

"We have perhaps all failed," Anthony, a tax advisor who did not give his family name, told AFP. "The big question now is: Why did he do it?"

"Young people just throw themselves in front of computer games," lamented Hannelore Staiger as she chose fruit at a local shop. "In the old days we all used to play together as a family."

The Albertville secondary school, a white modern building, remained cordoned off by police on Thursday. Under grey skies, local people solemnly left flowers, candles and pieces of paper bearing a simple question: "Why?"

There have been calls for the school to be closed forever.

At the Kretschmer family home in nearby Weiler zum Stein, the shutters were down and a police car was parked outside.

It was inside the sizeable home that his successful businessman father kept, quite legally, an arsenal of weapons that included -- in the bedroom -- the nine-millimetre Beretta pistol that his son would use to deadly effect.

Meanwhile eyewitness accounts emerged, including from 15-year-old Patrick.

"We were in a German class when Tim suddenly came in, all in black and armed. At first I thought it was a joke. Then he started shooting, he just kept shooting. He hit the target a crazy number of times. My schoolmates were collapsing all around me," Patrick told Bild.

"We turned the desks over and took cover behind them. I suddenly noticed that I had been hit in the back, in my arm and in the cheek. Then all at once he was gone. We barricaded the door. Then I saw my classmate Chantal. She was sitting by the door, dead."

More than 50 psychologists from the Red Cross, religious groups and other volunteers were offering counselling to traumatised pupils in a large room with around 20 round tables with space for three or four at a time.

"Some children are very, very calm," said Annette Kull, one of the helpers. "Those that are coming want us to give them a hug, to listen to them. They also want to recount what happened."

Thirteen-year old Ayun Colak, who was in the school but luckily only heard the gunshots and who has been helped by counsellors after being sent by her teacher, says it was the worst day of her life.

"I will never forget it," she says.

Red Cross spokesman Udo Bangester said the helpers will stay for at least another week.

"The trauma is not always noticeable the first day. You can't tell at first how seriously they are affected."

Francois Becker/AFP/Expatica

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