A tipoff was received two months ago by the authorities in Hamburg about the gunman who went on to kill seven people including an unborn baby in a Jehovah’s Witness hall, but he had persuaded officials not to take away his gun.
An anonymous letter was received by the weapons control authority in January raising concerns about a man named by German police as Philipp F, 35, saying that he appeared angry with his former fellow church members, but officers had found no reason for concern when they visited him last month.
The man, identified by local media as Philipp Fusz, a freelance business consultant, went on to shoot dead four men and two women aged 33 to 60, all German nationals, as well as an unborn female baby whose mother survived, during a rampage that started at 9pm on Thursday.
Eight people were injured, four seriously, raising fears that the death toll will increase. Six of those are German citizens, one is from Uganda and the other from Ukraine. It is the first mass shooting in Hamburg.
Fusz, who had left the Jehovah’s Witness church 18 months ago, went on to kill himself with his weapon after members of a special forces unit stormed the hall and chased him up to the first storey of the three-storey pebbledashed building near the city centre.
“He is a former member of Jehovah’s Witness who left the community voluntarily about a year and a half ago but apparently not on good terms,” said Thomas Radszuweit, Hamburg’s head of state security.
Questions are being raised as to why he was not stopped. The suspect had a gun permit as a marksman since December 2022 and was in legal possession of a Heckler & Koch P30. But in January an anonymous letter was received suggesting he might be suffering from an undiagnosed psychological illness and that he had indicated a “particular anger against religious members or against the Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer”.
During a subsequent unannounced visit on 7 February at his apartment in the Altona district of western Hamburg, Fusz was said to be cooperative and convinced officers that there was no cause for concern. He was merely given a verbal warning for not keeping his weapon in his safe.
The police chief Ralf Martin Meyer told a press conference that the suspect did not have a criminal record and there had been no legal grounds to take away the man’s weapon
Hamburg’s senator for interior affairs, Andy Grote, said: “It’s a horrible act. We have not had a mass attack of this magnitude. It is the worst crime in our city’s recent history.”
The violence had begun at around 9pm on Thursday evening when Fusz, a single man who had lived in Hamburg since 2015, arrived at Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall two hours into a service, and turned his weapon on a woman sitting in her car.
He fired off 10 bullets into the vehicle but the woman managed to get away at which point the gunman moved towards a window at the northern side of the building. He shot open the window pane and entered the hall where 36 people were gathered. A further 25 members of the church had joined them online.
It was now 9.04pm. A total of 135 rounds were shot by the gunman with his semi-automatic weapon, seemingly in short bursts, punctuated by 20-second breaks.
The emergency services received 47 phone calls seeking help as the gunfire had sounded.
Police were on the scene by 9.08pm but they could not immediately get into the building. A special operations support unit happened to be in the neighbourhood, however, arriving at 9.09pm and gaining access by shooting out the doorknob on the main door of the hall. As they entered, they saw a bloody scene, with bodies strewn around and gunfire still ringing out.
Amid the chaos, one figure, dressed in dark clothes, fled up the stairs. Police pursued. One witness said they believe they saw the gunman peer out of a window. But with nowhere to run, Fusz turned his weapon on himself, cornered on the first floor of the building. “It is very likely that we owe it to the very, very quick and determined intervention of the police forces that there were no more victims here,” said Grote.
The gunman had a backpack full of ammunition on him. A raid of his apartment led to the discovery of 15 loaded magazines with 15 cartridges each, and four boxes of ammunition containing another 200 cartridges, said Ralf Peter Anders from the public prosecutor’s office.
On Friday, the bodies of those killed were removed from the hall on stretchers and in one case a coffin, as media representatives watched on under the heavy snow. Forensic teams meanwhile continued to sweep for evidence while other officers were examining Fusz’s digital history for an explanation of his actions.
One webpage that appears to be Fusz’s personal website, states he was born in the Bavarian town of Memmingen and grew up in Kempten, close to the Austrian border, in a “strict evangelical household”. He studied at a technical college before an apprenticeship at a “leading private bank”. He lists studies in business administration, a BA (hons) and a science master’s among his academic achievements.
A fan of Liverpool football club, he watched his first game at Anfield in 2007, the website states. “In his private life, Philipp Fusz likes to be active and multicultural, preferably in a sunny environment close to the water. Philipp Fusz is a self-confessed European and feels comfortable in a global mindset.”
His minimum fee for consultancy was stated to be €250 (£221) plus 19% VAT, but he had also found time to self-publish a book in January with the title: The Truth About God, Jesus Christ and Satan.
It was described on Amazon, presumably by the author, as “a book which will change your view of the world and will be a new standard book next to the Bible and Koran, a book which will be also valid in 100 years’ time!”.
On a LinkedIn site, a last post was published at 5pm local time on Thursday, hours before the shooting began. “After over two months, I can determine from my sales report that my book has a 100% satisfaction rate. No returns, however there are samples or used in the market. That is quite an astonishing record! Who else has a 100% satisfaction rate?”