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Classroom slaughter horrifies Germany

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Teenager dressed in combat gear shoots 15 dead and asks: "Aren’t you all dead yet?" before turning gun on himself

The teenage pupils at Germany's Albertville school still had their pens in their hands when the bloodbath started. Tim Kretschmer walked into their classroom and shot dead their teacher at point-blank range. She slumped to the floor, bleeding profusely. Then, the 17-year-old turned his semi-automatic pistol on them.

Horrifying details of the slaughter of eight girls aged between 14 and 15, one boy and three of their women teachers at a secondary school near Stuttgart yesterday morning were still emerging last night from a Germany in shock over one of the worst school shootings in the country's history.

The killer was the son of a wealthy businessman. He shot and killed a total of 15 people – including a further three people after fleeing the school – after storming the secondary school in the southern state of Baden-Württemberg at about 9.30am with a gun taken from his father's private arsenal. Later cornered by police marksmen, he turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.

Police said the killer may have been encouraged to go on his shooting spree after watching television coverage of the Alabama shooting in which 11 people were killed on Tuesday.

Heribert Rech, the interior minister of Baden-Württemberg, said last night: "The pupils still had their pens in their hands, they were all taken completely by surprise."

Kretschmer was dressed in black battle fatigues and a gas mask when he entered the school in the town of Winnenden, about 18 miles north of Stutttgart. Police said he had taken the gun and more than 100 rounds of ammunition from his father's bedroom shortly before he went to the school.

Saying nothing to pupils, he immediately started shooting with the Beretta semi-automatic pistol. "He just started firing in all directions," a police spokesman said. Panic gripped many of the 1,000 pupils at the school who were forced to cower beneath their desks as the gunman, a former pupil there, walked into three classrooms, shooting wildly. Nine pupils aged 14 to 16 were killed. Three female teachers were reported to have been shot dead at close range.

Police said one of the women teachers had tried to protect her pupils by standing directly in front of the gunman to restrict his line of fire. They said witnesses had told them she was gunned down immediately and slumped to the floor, bleeding heavily. Before leaving the classroom, Kretschmer is reported to have shouted: "Aren't you all dead yet?"

Erwin Hetger, a policeman who entered the school just after the killings, said: "He just went into the school with his gun and created an absolute bloodbath. I have never seen anything like this. I was in the school, it was unbearable to see what had happened."

One woman teacher was reported to have slammed and locked her classroom door just as Kretschmer had stepped outside to reload, preventing more fatalities. "We heard about five or six shots," a girl who was in a classroom at the time said. "We then looked out of the window and saw a dead body lying on the grass outside. Then the police started to arrive. It is like being in a film," she added.

Other distraught pupils in their early teens told German television how fire crews were forced to evacuate them from their classrooms with fire ladders because they were too terrified to leave the building. "We just heard teachers shouting 'somebody's gone berserk with a gun, watch out, watch out !'" said one young pupil.

Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke on television about the massacre: "I am horrified and dismayed by the events at the Albertville school. It is incomprehensible that school pupils should lose their lives in this way."

Heavily-armed police who were first at the school spoke of "terrible scenes" in the classrooms. The shooting prompted scores of frantic parents to flock to the school, all desperate for news of their children. Many were weeping: "I want to find out what has happened to my daughter, but the police won't let me through," complained one tearful mother.

Police evacuated the school after establishing that Kretschmer had fled. The 17-year-old then stopped the driver of a Volkswagen car at gunpoint and forced him to drive with him to the town of Wendlingen, about 24 miles away. On the way he ordered the driver to get out of the car and continued the journey alone. On the way the gunman shot dead a gardener who was working in the grounds of a psychiatric hospital by firing seven rounds at him.

The gunman then shot his way into a Volkswagen showroom in Wendlingen. Two employees in the showroom were said to have been gunned down. "He shot at everything that moved," a police spokesman said. Police pursued Kretschmer and a gun battle ensued in which two police marksmen were badly wounded. Kretschmer was wounded in the leg. He then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.

By mid-morning yesterday, Winnenden had been turned into a police fortress. More than 1,000 heavily- armed officers had been drafted into the town. Psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists were called in to counsel hundreds of pupils and parents who were being looked after in the school's swimming pool building.

Police said Kretschmer had evidently taken his gun from his father's arsenal of 15 firearms, which he kept in the family home. They said Kretschmer's father was a local, wealthy businessman who had registered the weapons with the police. However, they added that although Kretschmer's father kept most of the guns locked in a cupboard, he kept the Beretta in his bedroom.

Kretschmer, who left the Albertville school last year without his equivalent of GCSEs, was still living at home. Photos of him published yesterday showed what appeared to be a shy young man who wore glasses. Pictures of him as a young pupil showed him smiling and holding up a trophy and a school certificate.

Helmut Rau, the regional minister for schools, said Kretschmer was a pupil whose behaviour had never given any cause for concern to teachers at the Albertville school. "He was completely normal. He must have been suffering from a split personality," he said.

But a former schoolmate of Kretschmer's who declined to be identified described the killer as "deeply frustrated". He said Kretschmer had left school without qualifications and lived the life of a "loner". His father was a member of a gun club and had familiarised his son with the guns he kept. The two apparently used to fire at targets in the cellar of the family home.

Police psychologists suggested yesterday that television coverage of the Alabama shooting had probably influenced Kretschmer. "For people who go on the rampage like this, watching TV footage of Alabama would have been enough to turn fantasy into action," said Joachim Kersen, a psychologist at the Münster police academy. "These incidents focus world attention on the perpetrators, which is want they want," he added.

A decade of school shootings

Sept 2008: Matti Saari, 22, kills 10 before shooting himself at a vocational school in Kauhajoki, Finland.

Feb 2008: Steven Kazmierczak, 27, opens fire at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, killing five students.

Nov 2007: Pekka-Eric Auvinen, 18, shoots and kills eight people and himself at a school in Tuusula, Finland.

April 2007: Cho Seung-Hui, 23, fatally shoots 32 people at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, then kills himself.

April 2002: Robert Steinhaeuser, 19, kills 13 teachers, two former classmates and a policeman, at a school in Erfurt, Germany.

April 1999: Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold kill 12 at Columbine High School, Colorado, before committing suicide.

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