School Shootings Are Not Uniquely American; The Erfurt Massacre

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A Brief History

On April 26, 2002, Erfurt, Germany, was the scene of a horrific mass murder when a 19 year old student that had been expelled from a high school shot and killed 16 people.  Killed in the massacre were 13 faculty and staff members, 2 students, and 1 police officer.  As we have said, the common refrain that “only in America” do school shootings (or other school related murders) or mass shootings occur is entirely false, as such incidents keep happening in other countries where “gun control” is far more strict than in the United States.

Digging Deeper

The shooter, former student Robert Steinhäuser, age 19, had been expelled in 2001 for presenting a forged medical excuse for absences from his classes at the Gutenberg Gymnasium (the name of his high school).  His expulsion from school carried an onus of failure that dogged Steinhäuser’s prospects for decent employment. While not explicitly stated, his motive for the shooting is probably based on his expulsion and the subsequent frustrations about his prospect of gaining profitable employment. Steinhäuser packed a 12 gauge pump shotgun and a Glock 17 9mm pistol for his deadly mission, arriving at the school around 10:45 am.  He had brought multiple loaded magazines for his pistol.  He went to a bathroom and changed his clothes, putting on a black face mask.  His wallet and other identification along with his coat were left in the bathroom.

The shotgun was inoperable due to some sort of mishandling by Robert earlier, so he used his pistol instead, starting by going to the office and shooting the principal and the school secretary.  Robert went about the school, purposely targeting adult employees and not shooting at students.  The 2 students that were killed were accidentally shot when Robert was blasting away through a closed and locked door to a classroom (a tragic example of how a bullet proof door would have saved lives).  Robert went outside to the schoolyard to continue his rampage, where the police had finally arrived and engaged the shooter in a brief shootout without either side scoring any hits.  Robert retreated to inside the school, where he again shot at the police from a classroom window, striking an killing one of the officers.

In the school Robert was confronted by a teacher that he knew and that knew him, and Robert declined to shoot the heroic teacher.  When the teacher tried to coax Robert into a closed room for a conversation, the teacher pushed the Robert into the room and locked the door. The gunman then shot and killed himself, ending the spree.  The shootings had lasted only about 20 minutes.  Police did not discover the body of Robert Steinhäuser until about 1 ½ hours after the lad had killed himself. During the shooting Robert had changed magazines 3 times.  The total of 4 magazines that he used were capable holding 17 rounds apiece, giving the young man at least 68 rounds of 9mm ammunition.

A notable lapse in the possibility of identifying Robert as a potential mental/emotional at risk person was the decision of the school to not inform his parents that he had been expelled, due to Robert being 18 years old at the time and of legal age.  Robert did not tell his parents he had been booted from the school and they did not know of his anguish about that fact.

Germany’s already strict gun laws should have prevented Robert from having the weapons he used in the massacre, but he had forged documents to obtain and keep the shotgun and had failed to comply with registration of the pistol.  In the manner typical of politicians desperate to “do something” in the wake of the shocking tragedy, German gun laws were made even stricter.  The age to own a shotgun was raised from 18 to 21 (similar measures have been discussed in the United States in past couple years) and pump action shotguns were made illegal entirely, even though Robert’s pump shotgun was inoperative and not used in the murders.  A requirement for shooters under the age of 25 to undergo medical-psychological examination to be allowed to possess a firearm was also instituted.

Predictably, efforts to cast aspersions on video games and violent movies were made, a desperate attempt to blame something other than the individual or authorities for the tragedy.  No connection between violent movies or video games was found to have affected Robert Steinhäuser.  The Erfurt school shooting incident also generated a new method of alerting teachers and staff that an active shooter was present in a school, the coded announcement that “Mrs. Koma is coming.”  “Koma” is the word “amok” backwards.  If this was supposed to be some sort of secret code, we hope they have changed the codeword because the phrase can be found in the general public, including Wikipedia!

Note: Was the Erfurt shooting an anomaly?  If you think only the US has school shootings, be advised that in 2009 Germany suffered another such tragedy when a 17 year old armed with a pistol shot and killed 16 people (one of which was himself) at a high school in Winnenden, Baden-Württemberg, Germany.  This time the shooter was actually a graduate of the school, having graduated the year before the shooting.  This shooter had obtained the Beretta 92 9mm pistol by stealing from his parents.

See another of our articles related to a foreign mass shooting via this link.

Question for students (and subscribers): Were you aware of school massacres that have taken place outside of the United States?  Please let us know in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Hurka, Steffen. Rampage Shootings and Gun Control: Politicization and Policy Change in Western Europe. Routledge, 2017.

Torres, John. The People Behind School Shootings and Public Massacres. Enslow Pub Inc., 2016.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by ASK of Gutenberg Gymnasium, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.


About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.