Shock at 'un-Dutch' mass shooting

10th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

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 8,200 messages on an electronic condolence register opened in the town where the 24-year-old man went on a rampage 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 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.

The municipality said Sunday that the victims were three women aged 45, 68 and 91, and three men of 42, 49 and 80, all residents of Alphen aan den Rijn. The 42-year-old was of Syrian origin.

After his shooting spree, the man then turned the gun on 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 shooting, which they said was more common in countries like the United States.

The NOS public broadcaster labelled the killing an "un-Dutch drama."

But disaster management professor Eelco Dykstra told the station: "This type of thing can happen anywhere."

Relative to population size, Europe "is more affected than America," by mass killings, 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.

Investigators said he was in trouble with the police in 2003 for contravening the arms and ammunition act, but the case was dropped.

A photograph of the killer was circulated on Twitter on Sunday showing a man with 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.

Police in the eastern city of Rotterdam announced meanwhile they had arrested a 17-year-old who had announced on Twitter that he intended to copy the shooting in his neighbourhood.

The De Ridderhof mall remained closed on Sunday but residents of apartments above it were allowed to return home after spending the night in a sports hall.

A silent memorial service was to be held outside the mall at 9:00 pm (1900 GMT).

© 2011 AFP

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