Erfurt school massacre
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|Location||Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany|
|Date||26 April 2002 |
c. 10:58 a.m. – c. 11:17 a.m. (CEST)
|School shooting, mass shooting, murder-suicide, massacre|
|Deaths||17 (including the perpetrator)|
The Erfurt massacre was a school shooting that occurred on 26 April 2002 at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium, a secondary school, in the Thuringia State capital Erfurt, Germany. 19-year-old expelled student Robert Steinhäuser shot and killed 16 people, including 13 staff members, two students, and one police officer, before committing suicide. One person was also wounded by a bullet fragment. According to students, he ignored them and aimed only for the teachers and administrators, although two students were unintentionally killed by shots fired through a locked door.
While Steinhäuser's motive is unknown, media reports assumed it to be related to his expulsion from school without qualifications and his subsequent feeling of victimhood and hopelessness regarding his future job opportunities.
Robert Steinhäuser (22 January 1983 – 26 April 2002) was a student of the Gutenberg Gymnasium until early October 2001. At the end of September 2001, he had spent a few days away from school, for which he presented a mandatory medical certificate which was quickly identified as a forgery. Because of this forgery Steinhäuser was expelled.
Due to the regulations used in the State of Thuringia (German: Thüringen) at this time, Steinhäuser on expulsion found himself with no qualifications at all, and therefore very limited job prospects.
On the day of the shooting, before leaving his residence at his usual time, Steinhäuser armed himself with a 9mm Glock 17 and a Mossberg 590 Mariner 12-gauge pump-action shotgun, which was unusable due to an earlier handling error. Steinhäuser probably entered the school unmasked at 10:45, carrying his weapons and ammunition in his sports bag or backpack at the time. He went into the men's toilet on the ground floor and changed some of his clothes, including a black face mask. He left his coat, wallet and identification.
The shooting started at approximately 10:58 am. From the toilet, Steinhäuser went to the secretariat. There he shot the deputy school principal and the secretary. In the next room was the headmistress, but Steinhäuser did not enter the room despite the door being unlocked. When the headmistress went to check the noise, Steinhäuser had already left the room. Upon discovering the bodies, she locked herself in her office and alerted the emergency services.
After leaving the secretariat, Steinhäuser went up the stairs to the first floor. Still on the stairs, he shot several times in the back of a teacher who was about to open a preparation room. On the first floor, he moved into the room 105 and shot the teacher in front of the students. Alerted by the shots, the teacher from the opposite classroom wanted to see what had happened and entered the corridor, where he was killed by several shots.
The perpetrator then made his way to the second floor. There he first entered the empty room 206, then the room 205, in which there were only a few students, but did not shoot there. Now he crossed the hallway to the north stairwell and fired five times at a teacher. Then he entered the room 211 and shot the present teacher five times, again in front of students. His next path led Steinhäuser in the opposite classroom 208, but he didn't shoot the teacher who resembled the surrounding students in size and youthful figure.
Steinhäuser now made his way to the third floor, where he shot another teacher in room 307. Here he changed the magazine of his weapon for the first time. Back in the corridor he met a teacher who wanted to inquire after the noise. She was ignored by Steinhäuser. He then shot a teaching trainee in room 304/310 and another teacher in the hallway. Shortly thereafter, Steinhäuser was identified for the first time because a student recognized him despite the face mask. On the way to the south staircase he shot another teacher.
Steinhäuser returned to the southern second floor. The situation was different now, most students already knew about the events and many had already fled. The perpetrator met here now for the first time locked and barricaded classrooms. Nevertheless, Steinhäuser also found victims here; he fired several times at a fleeing teacher. She fell forward through the half-opened door, Steinhäuser walked over her and from the other direction shot the lying woman. The perpetrator changed the magazine for the second time. In room 208, a teacher, who had previously been spared from Steinhäuser, locked herself up with her class. Steinhäuser tried to enter the room; after this failed, he fired eight times through the closed door in rapid succession, killing two students.
Robert Steinhäuser now went to the first floor, where he fired a shot through the door to a toilet. The shot stuck in the backpack of a student standing in front of a sink.
Steinhäuser now went to the schoolyard. There he shot a teacher who had taken care of the evacuation of the students and had repeatedly driven them to leave the school grounds. Steinhäuser changed his magazine for the third and last time. At this time, five minutes after the first shot, the first police car arrived at the school. Steinhäuser opened fire on the police and one of the policemen shot back once. No one was hit in this shootout. Thereupon, Steinhäuser went quickly to the first floor and through a window fatally shot a policeman in the head.
In front of room 111 Steinhäuser met the teacher Rainer Heise. The perpetrator had already removed his face mask, so the teacher could recognize him. The teacher was aware of the extent of the events of the last few minutes. He was also aware that he had the gunman in front of him. He said to Steinhäuser, "You can shoot me now," and looked him in the eyes. However, Steinhäuser lowered his weapon and said: "Mr Heise, that's enough for today." According to Heise, he asked Steinhäuser to come for a conversation in the next room (room 111, material room art), Steinhäuser followed the request, went to the open door and was then pushed into the room by Heise to be locked up in it. Shortly thereafter, Steinhäuser shot himself, the shot was heard by a police officer and his body was found by police a few hours later.
From the first shot to Steinhäuser's suicide the spree lasted no more than 20 minutes. One and a half hours later, Steinhäuser's body was found by a special police detachment (SEK) in room 111. The gunman had killed 16 people in the massacre—12 teachers, two students, one secretary and one policeman. Seventy-one rounds were fired throughout the whole series of shootings.
Steinhäuser's family issued a statement to news sources saying that they "will forever be sorry that our son and brother has brought such horrifying suffering to the victims and their relatives, the people of Erfurt and Thuringia, and all over Germany."
The provincial government of Thuringia already disapproved of the school director shortly after the act and confirmed it in May 2004 following the presentation of the commission's report. Although the school expulsion she made was pedagogically acceptable, she had exceeded her legal powers. Her statements to Steinhäuser were deemed inappropriate, but there were no legal consequences for the headmistress.
Likewise, the Thuringian education law was caught in the crossfire of criticism. Since Steinhäuser was already of legal age, the school administration was of the opinion to not inform his parents about his expulsion from the school (which, as the investigation committee later discovered, was illegal). So the parents did not realize that their son who was leaving the house every day, did not go to school anymore. In addition, there were at this time, in contrast to most other states, no exams or automatic awarding of the middle school certificate (Realschulabschluss) after the 10th grade of the Gymnasium. Pupils who did not pass the A-Levels therefore did not have a school certificate and therefore had hardly any job prospects. In response to the shooting, high school students were able to take an exam at the end of year 10 at their own request. Since 2004, this exam is mandatory as a special performance assessment for all Thuringian high school students.
The shooting also led to heavy public discussions on youth and violence, especially in relation to computer games of the first-person shooter genre, so-called killer games and dealing with fictional violence in other media. According to the report of the Gutenberg Commission Steinhäuser had some violent movies such as Fight Club, Predator or Desperado, as well as the video games Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Hitman and Half-Life. Steinhäuser was apparently not interested in the game Counter-Strike, which was often mentioned in connection with the shooting by the media. The discussions accelerated work on the new youth protection act, which was adopted a few weeks later, and helped to strengthen the rules for these areas.
In addition to the youth protection act, gun laws were tightened. Although before the shooting comprehensive restrictions had already been decided and Steinhäuser only gained and remained in possession of his weapons due to the negligence of the responsible agency in enforcing them (he didn't register the pistol in time, forged documents for his shotgun, and despite the seller's inquiry, the agency granted the acquisition, see the Thuringian Report), further restrictions were added due to the events. The minimum age for shooters to acquire a large caliber weapon other than shotguns used in clay target shooting has been raised to 21 years and athletes under 25 years have been required to undergo a medical-psychological examination. Pump action firearms were banned altogether. Furthermore, the retention requirements for firearms and ammunition have been significantly tightened.
After the rampage, around 700 students were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, about one hundred of whom were still under treatment for one year later. Ten years after the killing spree, there were still six witnesses in psychological therapy, including four who had initially rejected a follow-up program. These adolescents had "time-delayed disturbances such as memory gaps and extreme avoidance behavior". The Thuringian accident insurance fund as payers has so far taken over childcare costs for the victims in the amount of about 5.6 million euros, including about 2.2 million euros as pension payments, for example, for survivors' pensions.
Steinhäuser's last words – Für heute reicht's ("that's enough for today") – was also the title of a controversial book about the massacre written by Ines Geipel, who alleged that there were several mistakes made by the police on the case. Geipel, and relatives of some of the victims, criticized police for the initial speed of their response. The police had initially believed there was a second gunman, leading them to retake the school one floor at a time rather than storm the entire building. Police laws and police training were reformed in most federal states in response to the shooting. While police patrols used to have to wait for a special task force, policemen all over Germany now get the necessary training and equipment to deal directly with mass shooters.
Heise was hailed as a national hero for locking Steinhäuser in a room which ended the killing spree, but was later subject to backlash from some members of the public due to questions about his role. Erfurt Mayor Manfred Ruge said he fully believes Heise, but acknowledged the teacher's rather direct and animated style combined with the vast media coverage had caused resentment in the town.
The massacre led to the development of a code word that could be broadcast over the public address system to warn teachers of a shooting. "Mrs Koma is coming", which is "amok" spelled backwards, was later used at the Winnenden school shooting to alert teachers to that attack.
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- Media related to Gutenberg-Gymnasium at Wikimedia Commons