On Friday, authorities reported that a man, who was previously a member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, killed six people and an unborn baby at a hall belonging to the congregation in Hamburg, Germany.
The gunman then committed suicide after the police arrived. Eight people were injured, four of whom were seriously wounded, but there was no immediate motive for the attack, and prosecutors ruled out any links to terrorism.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz condemned the violent incident, while Hamburg’s top security official praised the officers for their quick response, which saved many lives.
The state Interior Minister added that it was the worst crime the city had experienced recently. It is unclear whether the mother of the unborn baby was among the victims.
According to officials, the individual responsible for the shooting was a 35-year-old German national named Philipp F., who fired over 100 rounds during the attack.
He had a license to possess firearms and legally owned a semi-automatic pistol. Hamburg’s police chief, Ralf Martin Meyer, confirmed that the shooter had been previously investigated after authorities received a tip suggesting that he may not be suitable to own firearms, but he was found to have not violated any regulations.
The police did not resort to using their own firearms during the incident, as per a police spokesman. The head of Germany’s GdP police union in Hamburg, Horst Niens, expressed his belief that the swift response of a special operations unit could have distracted the perpetrator and potentially prevented further casualties.
While Germany has more stringent gun laws compared to the United States, they are more relaxed than some of its European counterparts, and shootings are not unprecedented. In 2020, an 18-year-old man shot and killed one person and injured three others in a crowded lecture at Heidelberg University before taking his own life.
In the same year, a man killed six individuals, including his parents, and injured two others in southwest Germany, while another shooter killed nine people near Frankfurt, posting a racist diatribe online beforehand.
The most recent shooting targeting a place of worship was in October 2019, when a far-right extremist attempted to enter a synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur, Judaism’s holiest day. After failing to gain entry, he killed two people nearby.
The German government announced plans in 2020 to tighten background checks and regulate gun ownership by suspected extremists. Presently, individuals wishing to obtain firearms must demonstrate their suitability, such as being a member of a sports shooting club or a hunter.
When asked about a possible political reaction to the shooting, Germany’s Interior Ministry spokesperson, Maximilian Kall, stated that it was necessary to wait for the results of the investigation before making any conclusions.
On Friday morning, forensic investigators dressed in protective white suits were seen outside the Kingdom Hall belonging to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was a three-story building located a few kilometers away from downtown Hamburg and adjacent to an auto repair shop.
As light snow fell, law enforcement officials placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence. In an emailed statement on Friday, David Semonian, a spokesperson for the Jehovah’s Witnesses based in the United States, expressed grief for the victims of the tragic event, saying that members worldwide were mourning. He added that the congregation elders in the affected area were providing emotional support to those impacted by the incident.
According to Holger Vehren, a police spokesperson, authorities were notified of the shooting on Thursday evening and promptly arrived at the scene. Upon their arrival, officers discovered individuals with suspected gunshot injuries on the building’s first floor. Subsequently, they heard a gunshot from an upper level and discovered a critically injured individual who may have been the shooter.
The officers refrained from using their firearms. German news agency dpa reported that Laura Bauch, a nearby resident and student, heard multiple rounds of gunfire, which consisted of several shots during each occurrence. Bauch stated that she witnessed an individual running from the building’s ground floor to the second level of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall through her window. Gregor Miebach, who lives near the site, heard gunshots and captured a figure entering the building through a window on video.
Gunshots can be heard from inside the building in Miebach’s footage. The figure eventually emerged from the hall, was spotted in the courtyard, and then discharged more shots through a window on the first floor before the room’s lights were switched off.
Miebach, who lives near the shooting site, stated to German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 gunshots. He added that after the police arrived, there was one final shot. Dorte Miebach, his mother, expressed her shock over the incident and said that “It’s really 50 meters (yards) from our house and many people died.” She finds it difficult to comprehend the tragedy and come to terms with it.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are a part of an international church that was founded in the United States during the 19th century and is headquartered in Warwick, New York. The religion has approximately 8.7 million members worldwide, with around 170,000 in Germany. The members are known for their missionary work, including door-to-door evangelism and distributing religious materials in public places. The denomination’s religious practices include rejecting blood transfusions, bearing arms, saluting national flags, or engaging in secular governance.