20 years after Erfurt’s fury: “Not all wounds heal”

Status: 04/26/2022 07:39

71 gunshots, 17 deaths: the homicidal madness at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt dates back to 20 years ago. The act has changed a lot. What lessons did Erfurt learn?

it’s a Friday At home, the parents are still making breakfast sandwiches while the children are on their way to school. 12th grade kids are afraid of exams. On this day, the final exam is scheduled at the Erfurt Gutenberg-Gymnasium. It’s a normal Friday.

A former Gutenberg student also packed his bags on April 26, 2002. He lives a few blocks from the school. The 19-year-old does not carry school books, but a Glock 17 pistol and a shotgun. He had told his parents to go to the high school exam. He hasn’t been in class for months because he was kicked out of school for false medical certificates. Since he was of age at the time, the school did not inform the parents of their child’s expulsion. He practiced murder on the computer and at the shooting range. As a member of a rifle club, he had legally obtained the guns.

Just before 11am that day, exactly 20 years ago, he entered his former school. A few moments later the first shot is fired. The 19-year-old scours the school building room by room, floor by floor. Within minutes he shoots eleven teachers, a trainee, the school secretary, a policeman from a window and two students through the door of a barricaded classroom.

On April 26, 2002, a note reading “Help” was attached to a window of the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt. It has been two decades since a former student shot himself and 16 people at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium.

Image: dpa

71 shots

The 19-year-old fired 71 shots, with the last killing himself.The deed of April 26, 2002 went down in history as the first murder in a German school. It’s been 20 years now. Since then, the victims have been commemorated annually on April 26 in front of the school building, since 2017 with a school bell that has been specially cast for this purpose. On the school building hangs a commemorative plaque with the names of the people killed and the long-fought slogan: “In memory – united with the hope of a future without violence”.

Not all wounds heal, 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 us grow faster. And everything that was intuitively important to me then is much more important to me today.” Time is the most precious thing you have.

“The first mass murder in a German school will always be linked to Erfurt, at Gutenberg High School, and will always bring back painful memories,” says Manfred Ruge. “There was a lot of police, a lot of chaos, children crying, young people jumping over the fence in panic, many parents whose fear and panic I will never forget and a large crowd of media,” recalls the mayor of Erfurt all era.

A commemorative plaque with the names of the victims at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium 20 years after the killing spree.

Image: dpa

“You can’t put it away”

At the time, René Treunert was one of the police officers in charge of the support section. Today he is chief of police in Weimar and says: “There is a René Treunert before Gutenberg and a René Treunert after Gutenberg. Up to now, in 20 years of police work, I had had to deliver maybe 50 death notices, but never 17 in a day. This makes 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 a crisis response aide. The relatives of the murdered were informed individually and accompanied by the pastors of the death of their loved ones. It was already evening now. “Too late. But by then we didn’t have reliable lists, radio traffic had completely collapsed.”

Treunert brought the latest news of the death to the killer’s parents. They had been cut off from all information since early afternoon and were under house arrest after the special task force found the gunman’s body. “The parents didn’t know what happened until 8 pm. They just – like everyone else in Erfurt – saw a lot of blue lights, a lot of ambulances, their phone, their television – everything had been cut off for hours. I don’t remember exactly. what I said today if I used the term ‘killer’, “says Treunert.

Lessons from Erfurt

The act of violence has changed a lot. We have learned from mistakes. According to Treunert, the crisis folder for schools was developed shortly after the day with the Bad Berka teacher training institute. A first guide for teachers in case of a crisis – from a simple accident on the way to school, to a chemical accident, to a homicidal threat and madness. “Today every principal has a crisis folder in the office.”

In the following years there were further acts of violence in German schools, for example in Winnenden near Stuttgart. On March 11, 2009, a 17-year-old man killed 15 people in his former school, Albertville Middle School.

Stricter gun laws

The fury of Erfurt not only had dramatic effects on the biographies of thousands of people. It also influenced legislation in Germany. As part of the tightening of the Weapons Act, the minimum age for sport shooters to purchase large-caliber weapons has been increased to 21. Furthermore, the requirement to deposit firearms and ammunition has been significantly tightened and a medical and psychological examination has been made mandatory for sport 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 from a second culprit, the special task force had searched the building room by room for several hours, during which time rescuers were unable to reach all the victims.

The youth protection law has also been tightened

Studies have meanwhile shown that there is no causal link between insane murders and computer first-person shooter games, but in response the legislator has also tightened the law on the protection of young people in the area of ​​violent games.

And there have also been changes at the legal level in Thuringia: the law on schools has been changed so that, since 2004, all high school students have to take the baccalaureate exam after the 10th grade. Because at the time of the crime, the high school students were not graduated if they did not pass the maturity. Due to his expulsion from the Gutenberg-Gymnasium, the offender did not complete his studies shortly before graduating from high school.

Christiane Alt, Director of the Gutenberg-Gymnasium, (here in an archive photo of the commemoration of April 26, 2021.)

Image: dpa

“Cry for Change” has vanished

The first mass murder in a German school shook society and sparked many debates about a better school, more attention to the concerns and needs of young people, and tougher gun laws. “Cry for change” was the motto back then. Thousands of students walked 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 truly exceptional happened there,” says Christiane Alt. She was the principal then and still is today. “We fight every day for the lessons that need to take place. There is a lack of teachers, leisure educators and social workers. After 2002 I communicated to the Minister of Education at the time that we should do school social work to support the teachers for problems. in schools – this applies to all schools, for which parents and contact persons for children locally, in the home, need permanent authority. I have a school social job for two years. what is there to say “.

Psychological help for traumatized people

Two-thirds of Gutenberg’s students had to be psychologically assisted after the killing spree. Alina Wilms is a trauma expert and took over the coordination of psychologists who traveled to Erfurt from all over Germany in 2002: “The whole city was traumatized, there was nothing else to do. We did a ‘ psychological offer to all plus they have taken care of 600 Gutenberg students and teachers and many of those who have been affected for years. ”

Many 2002 Gutenberg students returned 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 have been all over. Sure, something like that leaves scars and scars. That’s okay too., which must remain visible to further sensitize people “.

This year, on April 26, the 16 victims will be presented in a more personal way with biographical fragments: “We want to bring them closer to students who did not know them. And we want to clarify which dreams of life were destroyed on April 26, 2002”, says the director. Alt. Of the 60 teachers, 13 witnessed the bloody act. “If today’s students ask us, we tell them. This event is part of our history.”

Commemoration of the victims of the Erfurt Fury

Antje Kirsten, MDR, April 26, 2022 8:04 am

Leave a Comment