A Brief History
On March 11, 2009, Germany experienced the pain and horror of a mass shooting at a high school, an incident in which 16 people were killed and 9 others wounded. The weapon? A Beretta pistol similar to the kind American servicemen carry on duty, a Model 92FS in 9mm Luger caliber (9 X 19mm).
The shooter, 17 year old Kretschmer, had graduated from Albertville-Realschule in Winnenden, Germany only a year before the shooting. He had stolen the 9mm pistol from his parent’s bedroom at home, went to his former school and at 9:30 am started shooting without warning. After shooting and killing several students, Kretschmer left the classroom to reload, at which time the alert teacher quickly locked the door. Kretschmer was unable to shoot through the lock (showing the benefit of equipping schools with tough, lockable doors), and headed to other rooms where he shot more teachers and students. Some students saved themselves by jumping from windows (perhaps schools could be equipped with emergency rope ladders for the purpose of escaping fire or a shooter, etc?).
The school office issued an emergency loudspeaker announcement, “Mrs. Koma is coming.” a coded message telling adult staff a shooter was loose in the school. (Koma is “amok” backwards.) Police arrived only 5 minutes after the shooting started, ending the slaughter in the school and exchanging gunfire with Kretschmer. The troubled teen shooter had fired about 60 rounds, mostly aiming for headshots and mostly attacking females.
Kretschmer fled the school, having killed 12 people there and leaving a stash of ammunition behind. He obviously had intended to kill many more people at the school. While police searched the school for a few hours without finding Kretschmer, the shooter had already left and killed a 57 year old woman in a nearby park. The shooter then hijacked a car and forced the driver to drive to Wendlingen, 25 miles away. On the way, Kretschmer enthusiastically wondered aloud if he could find another school to shoot up. The driver reported Kretschmer claimed he was doing the shooting because “it is fun.” Kretschmer ran from the car and into a Volkswagen car dealership, killing a salesperson and a customer (pouring 13 bullets into the victims) and demanding keys to a car. A shootout with the police ensued, with Kretschmer wounding 2 cops and police gunfire wounding Kretschmer in both legs. Kretschmer then shot himself to death, bringing the death toll to 16. He had fired 112 shots during his killing spree.
Kretschmer had no criminal history, but was a poor student, depressed and lonely. An avid ping pong player, he dreamed of being a professional at table tennis, but was known to have a terrible temper and being a poor sport when he lost. Not surprisingly, Kretschmer had previously been hospitalized as an in-patient in a psychiatric ward. His parents claimed to be at a loss to explain their son’s actions, although he had written them a letter 3 weeks prior to the shooting saying that he could not go on. His victims ranged from 15 years old to 57.
Kretschmer’s father was the owner of the Beretta 9mm, and owned another 14 firearms, all of which except the Beretta were kept in a locked safe. The father was indicted for negligent manslaughter for failing to keep the pistol locked up as required by German law, and was convicted, then given a suspended sentence.
What lessons can be taken from this horrible incident? One is that you do not need an “assault weapon” to kill a lot of people. A 9mm pistol is a medium powered pistol, far less deadly than a rifle or shotgun, but absolutely deadly enough to kill if fired accurately, as with any gun. Without the quick 2 minute response of the police the death toll could have been much higher. Another lesson is that enacting laws about gun storage does not mean people will comply with those laws. In this particular tragedy, 3 teachers died and another saved lives by quickly locking the classroom door when the chance to do so was presented. Any of those 4 teachers may have ended the shooting had they been armed themselves, instead of being helpless victims along with their students. (If not arming adequately trained teachers or staff members, how about issuing them mace or some other non-lethal weapon?) The school protocol for warning teachers with a coded message is a good idea, one that we hope our schools have learned to implement. The value of a stout classroom door that can be locked and not shot open can save lives. Perhaps our schools can be so equipped. The need to identify dangerously mentally ill people remains an elusive goal. Our society no longer locks up the mentally ill, but in some cases perhaps that is exactly what is needed! Mental health and social professionals that deem a person fit to be in society should be accountable for their decisions, and if they were accountable those decisions would be carefully considered indeed.
What frequently recommended “gun control” measures would have made no difference at all in this case? An assault weapon ban, for one. Age restrictions for buying guns for another. Laws about storage of firearms. Waiting periods after purchasing a firearm. Banning “bump stocks.” We are baffled as to these suggestions that come up time and again that really would not prevent school shootings and other tragedies. Putting more laws in place to control people that are already following the law is fruitless! Pro-active measures that would actually accomplish something toward public safety is what is needed, such as the suggestions in the previous paragraph.
What do you think? Please feel free to give us your recommendations about how we can prevent these horrible crimes.
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For more information, please see…
Langman, Peter. School Shooters: Understanding High School, College, and Adult Perpetrators. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017.
Newman, Fox, and Roth. Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings. Basic Books, 2005.
O’Toole, Mary Ellen. The School Shooter: A Threat Assessment Perspective (FBI Academy). CreateSpace, 2013.