Hamburg shooting: Unborn baby among seven killed at Jehovah’s Witness hall
An unborn baby was among seven people killed at a shooting at a Jehovah’s Witness meeting hall in Hamburg, police confirmed on Friday.
At a press conference, police revealed the shooter was a 35-year-old German man with a firearms licence, who had previously been investigated following a tip-off that he might not be suitable to bear a gun.
The man - named only as Philipp F, in line with German privacy rules - carried out the shooting on Thursday evening before taking his own life himself after police arrived. He was a former Jehovah’s Witness, police said.
The mother of the unborn baby killed in the attack survived the ordeal.
Eight people were wounded, four of them seriously, authorities said on Friday.
There was no immediate indication of a possible motive for the attack, which has stunned Germany’s second-biggest city, but prosecutors said there was no evidence for a terrorist link.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, described the attack as “a brutal act of violence.”
Officials said the gunman fired more than 100 rounds of ammunition.
Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said the man had a weapons licence and legally owned a semi-automatic pistol.
Jehovah’s Witness Hall shooting in Hamburg| March 2023
He said the suspected shooter was previously investigated after authorities received a tip that he might not be suitable to bear firearms, but was found not to have broken rules.
Police did not use their own firearms during the incident, a police spokesman said.
The head of Germany’s GdP police union in Hamburg, Horst Niens, said he was convinced that the swift arrival of a special operations unit “distracted the perpetrator and may have prevented further victims.”
Authorities declared “a mass casualty incident” after the incident at the Kingdom Hall in the Gross Borstel district of Hamburg at roughly 9.15pm on Thursday.
Gregor Miesbach, who lives near the hall, was alerted by the sound of shots and filmed a figure entering it through a window. Loud bangs could then be heard from inside.
Mr Miesbach told German television he heard at least 25 shots fired.
After armed police arrived, one last shot followed about five minutes later, he said.
Police spokesman Holger Vehren said officers who went in found people who were seriously injured, some of them fatally. The officers also heard a shot from the upper part of the building and went upstairs, where the shooter is understood to have been discovered.
Hamburg’s top security official said officers who arrived just minutes after receiving the first emergency call at 9.04pm.
A special operations unit that was nearby reached the site at 9.09pm and was able to separate the gunman from the congregation, Hamburg‘s state Interior Minister Andy Grote said.
“We can assume that they saved many people’s lives this way,” he told reporters during Friday’s news conference.
Mr Grote called the shooting “the worst crime that our city has experience recently.”
David Semonian, a US-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in a statement early on Friday that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event.”
“The congregation elders in the local area are providing pastoral care for those affected by the event,” he wrote.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church, founded in the United States in the 19th century and headquartered in Warwick, New York.
It claims a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany. Their beliefs include a refusal to bear arms or receive blood transfusions.
Germany’s gun laws are more restrictive than those in the United States, but permissive compared with some European neighbours, and shootings are not unheard of.
The German government announced plans last year to crack down on gun ownership by suspected extremists and to tighten background checks.
Currently, anyone wanting to acquire a firearm must show that they are suited to do so, including by proving that they require a gun. Reasons can include being part of a sports shooting club or being a hunter.