A gunman killed seven people on Thursday night at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Hamburg, Germany before allegedly turning his gun on himself. According to police, the alleged attacker was a German man named Philipp F., 35, who had left the congregation “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms,” about a year and a half ago.
About 50 people were attending a meeting at the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall in the city’s Alsterdorf district when the shooting began.
The police did not give any indication of a suspected motive for the shooting, as they briefed journalists Friday morning.
Olaf Scholz, the chancellor of Germany, called it a “brutal act of violence” and expressed his sympathies to the victims’ families.
The victims were four men, two women, and an unborn child killed. Authorities initially said Friday that a pregnant woman had died in the attack but subsequently confirmed she was one of eight people injured. Her 7-month-old fetus died.
Gregor Miesbach, a neighbour who filmed the gunman shooting through a first-floor window, told the Bild newspaper: “I didn’t realise what was happening. I was filming with my phone and only realised through the zoom that someone was shooting at Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“I heard loud gunshots… I saw a man with a firearm shooting through a window and filmed it,” he said
Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said “there were about four periods of shooting,” German news agency DPA reported. “There were always several shots in these periods, roughly at intervals of 20 seconds to a minute,” she said.
She said that she could see a person frantically running from the ground floor to the first floor from her window. “The man was wearing dark clothing and moving fast,” she added.
Hamburg’s top security official reported that a special operations team that happened to be nearby the hall came within minutes after receiving the first emergency call at 9:04 p.m. and were able to separate the shooter from the congregation.
“We can assume that they saved many people’s lives this way,” Hamburg state Interior Minister Andy Grote told reporters.
According to police spokesman Holger Vehren, upon arrival, officers discovered individuals with apparent gunshot wounds on the main floor. They then heard a shot from an upper story, where they found a fatally wounded man thought to be the shooter.
The Police acknowledged they had previously received a tip about the shooter but lacked sufficient grounds to confiscate his weapon, a legally owned semi-automatic pistol prior to the shooting on Thursday night.
After the incident, officers went to the suspect’s residence and discovered 15 loaded magazines of ammunition, the Police said.
Are Gun laws strict enough?
Germany has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe, which include a requirement that anybody under 25 must successfully pass a psychological test in order to obtain a gun license.
However, a number of shootings that have occurred in the last few years have shaken the country. In the western town of Hanau in February 2020, a shooter with alleged far-right ties killed nine people, including Turkish immigrants, before taking his own life and that of his mother.
In October 2019, a shooter opened fire outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle, leaving two people dead.
According to the National Firearms Registration, there were about one million private gun owners in Germany in 2021. The majority of them are owned by hunters, and they total 5.7 million legal firearms and firearm parts.
German officials intend to make the nation’s gun restrictions even stricter following a wave of arrests in December in connection with an alleged coup attempt.
Reactions to the unfortunate tragedy
“I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. The forces are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background,” Peter Tschentscher said on Twitter.
David Semonian, a U.S.-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in an emailed statement Friday that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event.”
“The congregation elders in the local area are providing spiritual comfort to those affected by the event.
“We understand that the authorities are still investigating the details of this crime. We appreciate the courageous help provided by the police and emergency services,” the statement added.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are an international Christian organization with about 8.7 million members worldwide including about 170,000 in Germany. They are best known in many countries for their peaceful door-to-door preaching and teaching activities.