Status: 04/26/2022 07:39 a.m
71 shots, 17 dead: The killing spree at Erfurt’s Gutenberg-Gymnasium was 20 years ago. The act changed a lot. What lessons have been learned from Erfurt?
it’s a friday At home, parents are still making breakfast sandwiches while the children are on their way to school. The 12th graders are afraid of exams. On this day, the Abitur exam is due at the Erfurt Gutenberg-Gymnasium. It’s a normal Friday.
A former Gutenberg student also packed his backpack on April 26, 2002. He lives just a few blocks from the school. The 19-year-old is not carrying any school books, but a Glock 17 pistol and a pump-action pump-action shotgun. He had told his parents to go to the Abitur exam. He has not attended classes for months because he was expelled from school for forged medical certificates. Since he was of legal age at the time, the school did not inform the parents of their son’s expulsion. He practiced murder on the computer and at the shooting range. As a member of a rifle club, he had obtained the guns legally.
Shortly before 11 a.m. on this day, exactly 20 years ago, he entered his former school. A few moments later the first shot is fired. The 19-year-old combs through the school building room by room, floor by floor. Within a few minutes he shoots eleven teachers, a trainee teacher, the school secretary, a policeman from a window and two students through a barricaded classroom door.
On April 26, 2002, a note with the inscription “Help” was attached to a window of the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt. It’s been two decades since an ex-student shot 16 people and himself at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium.
The 19-year-old fires 71 shots – with the last shot he kills himself. The act of April 26, 2002 went down in history as the first killing spree at a German school. It’s been 20 years now. Since then, the victims have been commemorated every year on April 26 in front of the school building, since 2017 with a school bell that was cast especially for this purpose. A commemorative plaque hangs on the school building with the names of those killed and the slogan that had been fought for a long time: “In memory – combined with the hope of a future without violence.”
Not all wounds heal – not even after 20 years, say those who witnessed and survived the school massacre. Like Maxi Bohn, who now lives in Berlin and is a fashion consultant: “Gutenberg made almost all of us grow up faster. And everything that was intuitively important to me back then is much more important to me today.” Time is the most precious thing you have.
“The first mass murder at a German school will always be linked to Erfurt, to the Gutenberg high school, and it will always bring back painful memories,” says Manfred Ruge. “There was a lot of police, a lot of chaos, crying children, young people who jumped over the fence in panic, many parents whose fear and panic I will never forget, and a large media crowd,” recalls Erfurt’s mayor at the time.
A commemorative plaque with the names of the victims at Gutenberg-Gymnasium 20 years after the killing spree.
“You can’t put that away”
At the time, René Treunert was one of the police officers responsible for the support section. Today he is police chief in Weimar and says: “There is a René Treunert before Gutenberg and a René Treunert after Gutenberg. Up until this day, in 20 years of police work, I had had to deliver maybe 50 death notices – but never 17 in one day. That makes it something with you, you can’t put it down.”
At the time, the 57-year-old was one of the few police officers in Thuringia who had already been trained as crisis intervention helpers. The relatives of the murdered were informed individually and accompanied by pastors about the death of their loved ones. By then it was already evening. “Much too late. But we didn’t have any reliable lists by then, radio traffic had completely collapsed.”
Treunert brought the last news of death to the shooter’s parents. They had been cut off from all information since the early afternoon and were under house arrest after the special task force found the gunman’s body. “The parents didn’t know what had happened until 8 p.m. They just – like everyone else in Erfurt – saw a lot of blue lights, many ambulances, their phone, their television – everything had been cut for hours. I don’t remember exactly what I said today whether I used the term ‘murderer’,” says Treunert.
Lessons from Erfurt
The act of violence changed a lot. We learned from the mistakes. According to Treunert, the crisis folder for schools was developed very shortly after the day with the teacher training institute in Bad Berka. A first guide for teachers in the event of a crisis – from a simple accident on the way to school, to a chemical accident, to a threat and a rampage. “Today, every headmaster has a crisis folder in the office.”
In the following years there were further acts of violence at German schools, for example in Winnenden near Stuttgart. On March 11, 2009, a 17-year-old shot dead 15 people at his former school, Albertville Middle School.
Stricter gun laws
The rampage in Erfurt not only had dramatic effects on the biographies of thousands of people. He also influenced legislation in Germany. As part of the tightening of the Weapons Act, the minimum age for sports shooters to purchase large-calibre weapons was raised to 21 years. In addition, the obligation to store firearms and ammunition has been tightened considerably and a medical and psychological examination has been made compulsory for sports shooters under the age of 25.
Another consequence of the police operation in Erfurt was the reform of police training: as a result, officers were trained to intervene directly and not to wait for special task forces. In Erfurt, according to reports of a second perpetrator, the special task force had searched the building room by room for several hours, during which time rescue workers were not able to reach all the victims.
Also youth protection law tightened
Studies have meanwhile shown that there is no causal connection between killing sprees and first-person shooter computer games, but in response the legislature has also tightened the Youth Protection Act in the area of violent games.
And there were also changes at the legal level in Thuringia: the school law was amended in such a way that, since 2004, all high school students have had to take a secondary school leaving examination after the 10th grade. Because at the time of the crime, high school students did not have a degree if they did not pass the Abitur. Because of the expulsion from the Gutenberg-Gymnasium, the perpetrator had not completed his schooling shortly before graduating from high school.
Christiane Alt, Headmistress of the Gutenberg-Gymnasium, (here in an archive photo from the commemoration on April 26, 2021.)
“Cry for Change” faded away
The first mass murder at a German school shook society and triggered many debates about a better school, about paying more attention to the concerns and needs of young people, and about stricter gun laws. “Cry for change” was the motto back then. Thousands of students walked through the city with posters weeks after the rampage, it was discussed in the state parliament and at the kitchen table. Today, 20 years later, the conclusion is sobering for many.
“We can’t say that anything really great happened there,” says Christiane Alt. She was the headmaster then and still is today. “We fight every day for the lessons that have to take place. There is a lack of teachers and leisure time educators and social workers. After 2002 I conveyed to the Minister of Education at the time that we should do school social work to support the teachers for the problems in the schools – this applies to all schools , for which parents and contact persons for the children on site, in the house, need a permanent authority. I have had a position for school social work for two years. That’s all there is to say.”
Psychological help for traumatized people
Two thirds of the Gutenberg students had to be looked after psychologically after the killing spree. Alina Wilms is a trauma expert and took over the coordination of the psychologists who traveled to Erfurt from all over Germany in 2002: “The whole city was traumatized, there was nothing else to do. We made a psychological offer to all of the more than 600 Gutenberg students and teachers and many of those affected for years cared for.”
Many Gutenberg students from 2002 found their way back to normal life with psychological help, including Jens Schneider. He stayed in Erfurt and studied event management: “I’m grateful that I can be here now, with my family, my girlfriend – it could all have been over. Of course, something like that leaves wounds and scars. That’s good too so, that has to remain visible in order to further sensitize people.”
This year, on April 26, the 16 victims are to be presented more personally with biographical fragments: “We want to bring them closer to the students who didn’t know them. And we want to make it clear which dreams of life were destroyed on April 26, 2002,” says the headmistress Alt. Of the 60 teachers, 13 witnessed the bloody deed. “If today’s students ask us about it, we tell them about it. This event is part of our history.”
Commemorating the victims of the rampage in Erfurt
Antje Kirsten, MDR, April 26, 2022 8:04 a.m