On March 11, 2009, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer entered his former high school in Winnenden. Germany, at approximately 9:30 a.m. Dressed in black combat gear, Kretschmer began firing, killing nine students and three teachers. He fled to a nearby clinic, where he killed one other person. He then took a hostage and drove to Wendlingen, a town approximately 25 miles away. The massacre ended in a shootout with police in front of a postal center. Two passersby were killed and two officers sustained serious injuries. At the end of the gun battle, Kretschmer was dead, although it was not initially clear whether he had been shot by police or had taken his own life.
Chief of Police Erwin Hetger called the massacre a bloodbath, saying he had not seen anything worse in his 19 years working in the area. German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed outrage and proclaimed a day of mourning for all Germans.
It was reported that during the attack, Kretschmer entered one specific classroom three times. Allegedly a student teacher threw herself in front of a student and was then killed. Students were terrified and confused. Some were told by police to leave the building and go out by the swimming pool. Students claimed the situation felt surreal, like a scene in a film, and that they had no idea how to react.
Kretschmer came from an affluent family. His father was a wealthy businessman. He was also a gun enthusiast and a member of a Schutzenvereine, or local shooting club. Membership includes training with air guns and then firearms. After a year, new members are allowed to apply for a weapons permit, which entitles them to buy and keep guns at home, although not to carry them in public. Approximately 20 million guns are held legally in Germany, mostly in citizens’ homes. Just a few weeks before his attack, Kretschmer’s father had taught him how to use a Beretta pistol at a club range. Reportedly, the family had 18 weapons in the house. The Die Zeit newspaper reported that one of the guns was not found when police searched the house.
In school, Kretschmer earned average grades and did not really stand out. He had left the school in 2008 to begin an apprenticeship. Students reported that he had a group of friends and did not appear to be bullied or isolated.
Although Germany has stricter gun laws than the United States, this and other incidents of school shootings prompted calls for even stiffer controls. At the time of Kretschmer’s attack, citizens seeking to have guns had to meet specific age criteria as well as demonstrate weapons expertise. Members of the shooting clubs argued these were isolated incidents and that no major overhaul in gun control laws was needed.
Several school shootings have shocked Germany in recent years. In 2006, Sebastian Bosse, wearing a mask and explosives and brandishing rifles, opened fire at a school in the western town of Emsdetten, wounding at least 11 people before killing himself. In April 2002, Germany saw its worst school shooting when Robert Steinhauser killed 16 people before turning the gun on himself at a high school in the eastern city of Erfurt. Steinhauser was also a member of a shooting club, and his attack prompted similar calls for gun control. Germany has the second highest number of deaths from school shootings, behind only the United States.
- Dougherty, C., (2009, March 11). Teenage gunman kills 15 at school in Germany. New York Times. Retrieved May 2, 2010, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/12/world/europe/12germany.html?_r=0
- Paterson, T. (2009, March 15). In Europe’s league of school shootings, Germany comes top. The Independent (UK). Retrieved from http://www.questia.com/library/1P2-20000160/in-europe-s-league-of-school-shootings-germany-comes
- Pidd, H. (2009, March 11). Students killed in German school shooting. The Guardian (UK). Retrieved from http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/mar/11/germany-school-shooting