20 years ago, 16 people died in a school shooting in Erfurt

One day that changed everything: on April 26, 2002, a former student shot 16 people at Gutenberg High School. This changes the lives of everyone involved and the school system.

For months, director Christiane Alt has been receiving inquiries about the anniversary of the attack on the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt. The fact that the media rings every year “has been extremely annoying for 20 years, so to speak,” says the woman, who at the time was already running the school on the outskirts of Erfurt. This year is particularly stressful. Always the same questions.

“I guess it’s irrelevant to keep going back to the events of the day. There’s merciless and endless archival material for that. That’s not what it’s about. And certainly not after 20 years. So when I’m asked, ‘You can say that. me of the day back then? ” No, I don’t want to talk about it anymore, “says Alt.

A phenomenon known only from the USA

On April 26, 2002, a former Gutenberg High School student killed 16 people. The 19-year-old shoots twelve teachers, a male student and a male student, a secretary, a police officer and finally himself: it is the first school massacre of this magnitude in a German school. Previously, gun rages were a known phenomenon from the United States.

“There have been repetitions and we cannot rule out that it will happen again.” Christiane Alt

There is no doubt that the day was traumatic for all 700 students, teaching staff, emergency doctors and police officers. Today, 20 years later, one should rather ask what the result has been for the education system. “Because what happened then was not unique in Germany. There have been repetitions and we cannot rule out that it will happen again.” Events like those in Winnenden or Ansbach in 2009 or more recently in January at the University of Heidelberg come to mind.

Much has changed since Erfurt. Based on what happened in Erfurt, Thuringia and other federal states have checked the safety of their schools and installed and expanded alarm systems. Even from Alt’s point of view, this chapter is not closed. “We are all familiar with the bleak financial situation in the education sector or even among the school authorities.”

As a result, the school law was revised

In addition to the technical requirements, the Thuringian School Law was also revised with direct reference to the Gutenberg-Gymnasium incident. Today it provides that high school students can obtain a Realschule certificate at the end of the 10th grade. The offender was expelled from high school and left untitled. Since he was of age at the time, his parents were not informed by the school of their son’s expulsion. This is also different today. Parents of adult students will be notified of special events by the school.

The most important step for Alt is prevention. According to his own statements, almost two decades ago he had been campaigning for schools to have social workers and a school psychological service.

On school days, around 650 students and 60 teachers come and go at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium. After April 26, 2002, extensive reconstruction and conversion work was carried out on the building. The school was not resumed in the building until three years later.

Memories fade over the years

“Then we were transferred and then they completely changed the school,” recalls former student Nathalie, now 32. “Then many very famous teachers left. And even your home environment – the schoolyard and the tree you liked – was suddenly all gone and different.” Daily school life was “really bad” long after the fact. Many would have tried to drop out of school. Nathalie wanted to change too, but it didn’t work out. Years later, she still ruled out an apartment near the school. The memory is too painful. She doesn’t like crowds, gun movies annoy her. But the memories of her fade over the years.

What has remained constant since 2002 are the annual commemorative events. In 2022, the day will be designed a little differently than in previous years, says director Alt. Victims should be portrayed in more detail in speeches with parts of their biographies. After 20 years, apart from 13 teachers, there are no more people in the school who are eyewitnesses.

At the center, the commemoration is about being close to the victims, says Alt. Bringing them closer to those who didn’t know them, to convey the extent of the loss and respect for life. “One day there will no longer be contemporary witnesses in the form of teachers. Even then, the commemoration will be part of this school.”

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