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The Erfurt massacre
Classification: Mass murderer
Characteristics: School shooting - While the motive is unknown, it is believed to be related to Steinhäuser's expulsion from school without qualifications
Number of victims: 16
Date of murders: April 26, 2002
Date of birth: January 22, 1983
Victims profile: 13 faculty members, 2 students, and one police officer
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Erfurt, Thuringia, Germany
Status: Committed suicide by shooting himself the same day
photo gallery
Bericht der Kommission Gutenberg-Gymnasium

The Erfurt massacre was a school massacre that occurred on April 26, 2002 at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium in Erfurt, Germany. The gunman, 19-year-old expelled student Robert Steinhäuser, shot and killed sixteen people; comprising 13 faculty members, 2 students, and one police officer, before committing suicide. An additional seven people were injured either directly or indirectly from the shootings.


While the motive is unknown, it is believed to be related to Steinhäuser's expulsion from school without qualifications and his subsequent feeling of victimhood and hopelessness regarding his future job opportunities.

Robert Steinhäuser was a student of the Gutenberg Gymnasium until early Oct 2001. At the end of September 2001 he had spent a few days away from school, for which he presented a medical certificate which was quickly identified as a forgery. Because of this forgery Steinhäuser was expelled.

Due to the regulations used in Thuringia at this time, Steinhäuser on expulsion found himself with no qualifications at all, and therefore very limited job prospects.

The massacre

On the day of the shooting, Steinhäuser armed himself with a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun and a 9mm Glock 17, before leaving his residence at his usual time. When he entered the campus, he went into the lavatories to change his clothes, and then donned a black ninja-style outfit.

The shooting started at approximately 11:05 a.m. Steinhauser had moved from classroom to classroom, pausing briefly each time in the doorway to shoot the teacher, then moving on to the next room. According to students, he ignored them and aimed only for the teachers, although two students were killed by shots fired through a locked door.

Five minutes after the shooting began, police arrived outside the school. Soon after, Steinhäuser aimed from a window and fatally shot a police officer in the head. Before he committed suicide, he was confronted by one of his teachers, Rainer Heise, who walked into the demasking shooter. Pausing, having established deep eye-contact with Steinhäuser, he said, "Du kannst mich jetzt erschießen." ("You can shoot me now."), Steinhäuser is said to have answered, "Herr Heise, für heute reicht's ("Mr. Heise, enough for today").

According to Heise, he then talked to Steinhäuser for a short amount of time, luring him into the doorway of an empty room. When Steinhäuser was in the doorway, Heise pushed Steinhäuser into the room and quickly locked the door. Steinhäuser committed suicide shortly after and his body was found by police a few hours after the shooting. 71 rounds were fired throughout the whole series of shootings.

Steinhäuser's last words -- Für heute reicht's ("(this) is enough for today") -- was also the title of a very controversial book about the massacre written by Ines Geipel, who alleged that there were several mistakes made by the police on the case. Geipel, and relatives of some of the victims, criticized police for the initial speed of their response. The police had initially believed there was a second gunman, leading them to retake the school room-by-room rather than storm the entire building.

Heise was considered to be a hero by some for locking Steinhäuser in a room and stopping the killing, but later began to receive some backlash from the public.


  • Coincidentally, on the day of the massacre, the German government was discussing raising the legal age level on firearm ownership from 18 to 21, while others pushed for a ban of firearms.

  • In fact, except for hunters, the legal age for firearm ownership above .22 LR caliber (and 200 Joule) was raised to 21, with an additional medical and psychological test under 25. Moreover, pump-action shotguns with pistol-shaped grip were banned.

  • Due to pressure by the families of the victims, the state of Thuringia put the exams for lower school graduations in the curriculum of higher school forms. Steinhäuser, although in the 12th grade when expelled, did not possess the lower graduations after 9th and 10th grade, leaving him without any school graduation after dropping out. This was a special situation only in the state of Thuringia.

  • Steinhäuser's family issued a statement to news sources and said that it "will forever be sorry that our son and brother has brought such horrifying suffering to the victims and their relatives, the people of Erfurt and Thuringia, and all over Germany."

  • The United States Secretary of Education Rod Paige offered condolences to the German people


Eighteen Dead in Student Rampage Through German School


26 April 2002

A student bent on revenge after being expelled from his school shot dead 14 teachers, two students and a police officer before killing himself Friday in a small university town in eastern Germany, police said.

Armed with a pump-action shotgun and a handgun, the 19-year-old walked though the Gutenberg high school in the town of Erfurt, blasting teachers as he found them in corridors and classrooms.

"Police called to the scene found a scene of horror. There were dead people in the corridors, in the classrooms, one was found in the toilet," said one police spokesman.


18 die in German school shooting

26 April 2002, CBC

A lone gunman killed 14 teachers on Friday in a school in Germany. He also killed two female students and a police officer before turning the gun on himself. Police said at least six other people were wounded.

The 19-year-old shooter was a former student at the Johann Gutenberg school in Erfurt, a city of 200,000 people about 225 kilometres southwest of Berlin. The gunman had been expelled from the school several weeks ago.

Outside the school, groups of students huddled together, hugging and crying. A police officer with a megaphone told parents to register their children's names before leaving the scene.


Nightmarish images from school massacre jolt Germany

27 April 2002, AFP

Bodies lying in hallways and shocked students in tears formed a landscape of horror after a shooting massacre in a German high school left 18 people dead including the gunman.

In a bloodbath of a scope unseen in German postwar history, the 19-year-old assailant, an expelled student, left a trail of corpses throughout the Gutenberg high school in this eastern German town and shocked and saddened the nation.

As the first police officers burst into the school building just before noon, they encountered the first signs of a nightmarish scene of carnage: the bodies of dead men, women and teenagers slain just minutes before.

One officer, a 42-year-old father of two, was gunned down immediately during an attempt to rescue students believed to be held hostage.

Fighting back tears, Erfurt police chief Rainer Grube told reporters: "It was his daughter's birthday today."


Schoolboy's deadly revenge

The Times

27 April 2002

He struck at about 11am under the vaulted roof of the school’s entrance hall, shooting two teachers without a word. The school caretaker ran to alert the police.

“We were sitting in class doing our work and we heard a shooting sound,” said Filip Niemann, a pupil. “We joked about it and the teacher smiled.

“The teacher let us go out and see what was happening and when we left the classroom, three to four metres in front of us there was a masked person in black holding his gun at his shoulder. He stretched out his gun and fired. We saw a teacher fall to the ground. We just turned and ran.”

The youth ran amok, chasing teaching staff and secretaries through the corridors. Some were killed while hiding in the lavatories, standing on the seats. Others were shot dead in the staffroom or the school secretary’s office.


How school killer stopped slaughter

Scotland on Sunday

April 28, 2002

"GO AHEAD and shoot me," the teacher said to the gunman, but somehow Robert Steinhäuser’s reserves of hatred had run out. The 19-year-old’s shoulders drooped, he lowered his pistol and said: ‘‘That’s it for today.’’

Rainer Heise, a history teacher, grabbed his opportunity and swung the former pupil into a classroom and locked the door. Steinhäuser could have blown the door off its hinges, but having killed 13 teachers, two teenagers and a policewoman, he no longer had the desire to go on.

Heise was lucky to have met Steinhäuser as his bloodlust was on the wane. The 19-year-old was striding through the corridors of his former school looking for his next victim when he came across the teacher.

Heise, speaking yesterday, described how he grabbed the youth’s shirt and tried to talk to him. "He then pulled off his mask and I said: ‘Robert?’"

Once the mask was removed, Steinhäuser found he could not kill anyone else. He allowed himself to be locked in the classroom where, within minutes, he took his own life.

The gunman was believed to have taken a legally-held pistol and pump-action shotgun to the school, which had expelled him two months previously. He returned on Friday to resit a maths exam which he clearly had no intention of taking.

"Many of the victims were killed with headshots. He clearly was a trained marksman," said Bernhard Vogel, premier of the state of Thuringia, of which Erfurt is the capital.


German gunman targeted teachers

Gun club member angry at expulsion for forged excuses

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

April 28, 2002

Robert Steinhäuser arrived at Johann Gutenberg High School in this medieval eastern German city on Friday morning with a bag containing a pump-action shotgun, a pistol and more than 500 rounds of ammunition.

He went to a bathroom where he donned a ski mask and took out three magazines -- each with 17 bullets -- but left the bag with most of the ammunition. Tall, thickset and dressed all in black, he emerged looking like a ninja warrior, students said.


Teacher tells of trapping gunman

Lockeed him in room of german school

The Record (New Jersey)

April 28, 2002

A history teacher recounted on Saturday how he confronted the teenager who carried out a school shooting rampage that has shocked Germany. After challenging the gunman to shoot him, the teacher shoved the 19-year-old into a classroom and locked the door.

A huge mound of flowers - tulips, roses, sunflowers, lilies - spilled down the school's front steps in this eastern city Saturday, a day after the rampage in which the gunman, identified as Robert Steinhäuser, killed 16 people.


Gun laws

BBC World

April 29, 2002

Politicians are also due to re-examine Germany's gun laws in the light of Friday's events.

Robert Steinhaeuser, a member of a gun club, had acquired both the weapons and ammunition he used in Friday's massacre legally.

He had licenses for both the Austrian-made Glock pistol, which carries up to 18 rounds, and for the pump-action shot-gun he had strapped to his back when he marched through the school on the rampage, killing former teachers, two pupils and a policeman who was called to the scene.

Mr Schily told German television that the government would examine thoroughly whether the age at which one can legally acquire a weapon should be lifted from 18 to 21, at which age, he argued, people were more "stable".

Gun clubs have however been quick to point out that stricter controls on legal weapons will make few inroads into stopping crime, as most shootings involve illegal arms.


School gunman hadn't told parents he was expelled

Police find violent comics and computer games when searching his home

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

April 29, 2002

The teen-age gun enthusiast who killed 16 people and himself at his former school enjoyed violent computer games and kept his parents in the dark about his expulsion from school, police said Sunday.

Investigators added new details to the troubling profile of Robert Steinhäuser, the 19-year-old behind one of the deadliest school shootings ever. They said that hours before his deadly rampage Friday, he told his parents he was going to take a math exam.


German teen apparently planned school attack

St. Louis Post-Dispatch

May 1, 2002

The German teen-ager who killed 16 people and himself at his former school apparently planned the attack for months, acquiring the permit he used to buy the weapons just weeks after he was expelled last fall, officials said Tuesday.

Authorities investigating Robert Steinhäuser's past revised earlier accounts that he had been expelled only weeks before the massacre Friday at Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium.

"It must have taken a long time to collect all the ammunition,"


Shame of German gunman's family

BBC World

May 2, 2002

Relatives of Robert Steinhäuser, the German teenager who last week killed 16 people and himself in a shooting spree, have spoken out about their horror and shame.

"The sorrow, despair and helplessness of our family are immeasurable," Steinhäuser's brother, father and grandfather wrote in an open letter to a local newspaper.

"We are infinitely sorry that our son and brother carried out such a horrific act on the victims, their relatives, the people of Erfurt and Thuringia and on the whole of Germany," his family wrote.

They say they had no idea of his plans. "Until this brutal act of madness, we were a totally normal family," they wrote.


Killer's eyes blazing with hatred

AN expelled pupil shot dead 14 teachers and two students at his old school yesterday. The deranged 19-year-old also murdered a cop — then turned his gun on himself. Shocked police said the victims were blasted at point-blank range in corridors, classrooms and even toilets. Some were so badly mutilated that medics could not tell whether the dead were men or women. One cop said: “It was truly a bloodbath because blood was flowing down the corridors like water spilled from a bucket.” At least six staff and pupils were wounded in the carnage.

Two were last night critically ill after being airlifted to hospital. Survivors said the horror unfolded after the ex-student tried to join a class taking a maths exam at the school in Erfurt, eastern Germany. Wearing black Ninja-style gear, he suddenly screamed: “I’m not writing anything.” Then he pulled out a pump-action shotgun and a pistol and opened fire. Cops believe the shootings took only a few minutes as the student — named as Robert Steinhaeuser — rampaged through Gutenberg grammar school. Nine male teachers and five women staff members were killed. Two girl pupils also died. Police believe they “just got in the way”.

One terrified 13-year-old survivor sent a desperate text message to her mum on her mobile phone.

It read:


Another hung a scrawled poster at a classroom window saying “Hilfe” — German for “Help”.

At one stage, Steinhaeuser — who has boasted to pals about devil-worshipping — was holding 28 pupils hostage in a classroom. The rest of the school’s 800 students fled the buildings in terror as he ran amok. Many hid in storerooms and even lockers to escape the madman.

Survivor Kerstin Gübler, 17, said: “I saw him in the corridor.

“All I could see were burning eyes, bulging eyes, aflame with hatred.”

Melanie Steinbrück, 13, sobbed: “I heard shooting and thought it was a joke. Then I saw a teacher dead in the hallway and a gunman in black.” Juliane Blank, 13, said: “The guy was dressed all in black — gloves, cap, everything was black.

“We ran out into the hallways. We just wanted to get out.”

Student Filip Niemann said: “We heard a shooting sound — and we joked about it. The teacher smiled and let us go out and see what was happening.

“There was a masked person in black. He stretched out his gun and fired. A teacher fell to the ground.”

A girl classmate added: “He came after us and shot a teacher next to me. He looked deep into my eyes.”

Klara Uhse, 14, said: “It was a nightmare — first the shots, then the moans of people being hit.

“I was under my desk all the time, pushed into a corner and hidden by a bookshelf.

“I could hear people in the classroom tap-tap-tapping messages on to their mobiles. No one wanted to speak in case he came in and shot us too.”

Housewife Gerda Puhlmann, who lives nearby, said: “The sky was filled with helicopters and there were armoured cars on the street.”

She revealed she asked a cop what was happening. He replied: “Madame, it’s a massacre.”

The alarm had been raised by a caretaker. But the first police officer on the scene was also shot dead. Minutes later, a special forces squad surrounded the school. Commandos combed the building and found the grisly scene of the massacre on the first floor. A police spokesman said: “The gunman shot people one by one.

“It was an incredibly cruel and calculating execution of innocent people.

“Teachers were the main target and the two pupils who died probably just got in his way.”

Outside, cops urged parents to register children’s names before going home. Dazed students huddled in the street, hugging and crying. One of Steinhaeuser’s former classmates, Isabell Hartung, said he once told her: “One day, I want everyone to know my name and I want to be famous.”


Police investigate heavy-metal link to school shooting

POLICE in Erfurt were investigating yesterday whether the dull throb of a heavy metal song called School Wars could have nudged Robert Steinhäuser towards the killing of 13 teachers in Germany’s worst classroom massacre.

As the sleepy east German city sought to come to terms with Friday’s tragedy, police admitted that they had few leads. “There is little evidence so far that he is a so-called Satanist,” one police officer said, “but we are following up the available clues.

One, plainly, was a compact disc found in Steinhäuser’s room. School Wars contains the line: “Shoot down your naughty teachers with a pump gun.”

Steinhäuser, 19, carried a pump-action shotgun, but used a pistol for the fatal shootings of the 13 teachers, a policeman and two children before killing himself.

In computer chatrooms Steinhäuser sometimes signed off as “Son of Satan”, although he also used other pseudonyms. After he entered the school, with pupils preparing to sit their school leaving exams, he made his way to the lavatory, where he changed into black clothing, the favoured garb of Satanists.

About 15 children have killed themselves in Devil- worship ceremonies in eastern Germany — many throwing themselves from viaducts — and it has motivated several murders. The police have started inquiries into the Satanist scene.

But as grief turned to anger yesterday, German politicians were showing more concern about gun clubs, which allow children as young as 14 to handle weapons, than youth cults and sects. Steinhäuser, who killed his victims with chilling accuracy, was a member of such a club. Known as Schützenverein, the clubs are the conservative heart of Germany.

Members dress in hunting green and are an important part of the neighbourhood social and political life. The clubs also provide the simplest path towards legal ownership of a weapon. Steinhäuser owned not only a pump-action shotgun and a pistol, but also more than 1,200 rounds of ammunition.

“The Erfurt tragedy has destroyed the basic assumption underlying our weapons laws,” Volker Beck, the Greens’ influential spokesman for legal affairs, said. “Should adolescents be given free access to weapons? Are the quantities of ammunition found in the school normal?” The police trade union has made a similar call: one of Steinhäuser’s victims was an unprotected 42-year-old policeman. Germany’s assumption that its gun control was the strictest in Europe and that bloodbaths occur only in America has been shattered.

Steinhäuser’s computer was removed at the weekend and detectives will investigate whether he used a simulation game — common in gun clubs and in the German Army — to create a virtual massacre. The speed with which Steinhäuser went through the school shooting teachers, usually in the head, suggested to the police that he had prepared himself well.

The first predictable reaction to the massacre was a call for a ban on violent computer games. “Killer games have to be outlawed,” Edmund Stoiber, who is running for Chancellor in September, said. “We need to be much less tolerant of anything that glorifies violence.”

Other politicians pointed out that since September 11 society has been bombarded by violent images on television.

But the turning even of conservative politicians, such as Bernhard Vogel, the Prime Minister of Thuringia, against gun clubs marks the beginning of a cultural revolution. There are 2.5 million registered gun enthusiasts in 23 shooting associations around the country. Hundreds of village and neighbourhood gun clubs belong to these associations.

Some of the shooting, with air rifles and pistols, is almost incidental to the social activities — regular fairs on the village green or beerdrinking sessions in the club room. At the level of local politics, these gun enthusiasts are often very influential; quiet agreement is struck on who should be the next candidate for council elections and on how to raise funds for the Christian Democrats. There are almost no foreigners in these clubs.

Steinhäuser, the son of middle-class parents, was welcome at his local club. He almost certainly trained there for the massacre rather than on simulation games.

“Many clubs have pumpaction gun programmes,” Friedolin Jacobs, a weapons expert, said. “We call it Action Shooting and you shoot at a steel wall from different distances until the wall collapses.”

There are no serious obstacles to obtaining a gun permit once a person has been accepted in the club. The candidate has to be over 18, respectable, law-abiding and skilled in the use of weapons.

No questions are asked about personality — the chief obstacle to a gun permit is a previous jail conviction — and so no one looked out for Steinhäuser’s psychological oddities.

The symptoms were difficult to spot. In most respects Steinhäuser seemed to live a normal life: posters of Victoria Beckham rather than Adolf Hitler decorated his room.

The German weapons law fails to provide a psychological filter because it is all but impossible to enforce. But even under the tougher version of the law, passed coincidentally as Steinhäuser embarked on his massacre, it is not difficult to obtain a gun. Every registered club member over 18 can own three semi- automatic weapons; 10-year-olds are allowed to own air rifles, 14-year-olds, under the supervision of a gun club, can use real weapons.

On the defensive yesterday, gun club members called off their 51st annual celebration, the centrepiece of which was a marksmanship competition. It was due to be held only 30 miles from Erfurt. The apartment block of the Steinhäuser family was cordoned off yesterday lest Erfurters tried to pursue their own justice.

Mainly, though, Erfurters went to church. The crowds were so thick that Mass had to be repeated several times throughout the day. Thousands gathered around the entrance to the school laying a mountain of carnations ringed by candles.

“Why?” said a piece of paper next to the name Rony. Rony, 15, had hidden with a schoolgirl behind a door during the massacre. The bullets penetrated the wood.

The city seemed to have found its hero in the form of the history teacher, Rainer Heise, 60.

He was teaching on the morning of the massacre when he heard a loud bang. “It sounded as though chairs were being thrown around,” he said.

At first he thought that there had been an accident in the chemistry laboratory. As he left the classroom, he came face-to-face with a man clad in black. After the killer took off his mask, the history teacher recognised his former pupil.

Herr Heise said that he had told Steinhäuser: “If you’re going to kill me, look me in the face.” Steinhäuser had stared at him, dropped the gun and said: “No, Herr Heise, that’s enough for today.”

Herr Heise said that he pushed Steinhäuser into a classroom and locked the room from the outside. Later Steinhäuser killed himself.


Gunman hid expulsion from parents

ERFURT, Germany -- The teenage gunman who killed 16 people and himself at his former school pretended to his parents he was still going to school each day -- even though he had been expelled.

Robert Steinhauser even told his unsuspecting parents hours before the massacre that he was going to class to take a maths exam.

Officials told The Associated Press his mother wished her son good luck on the exam as he left the house to begin his deadly shooting spree.

As investigators developed a fuller picture of the 19-year-old behind one of the deadliest school shootings ever, they said Steinhauser managed to keep his parents in the dark about his expulsion from school for forging a doctor's note.

It was the humiliation of the explusion that authorities believe triggered Friday's rampage.

"The parents thought he was going to school every day and was successfully moving toward his high school diploma," Erfurt Police Chief Rainer Grube tolf AP, citing statements by the parents to police.

Officials said he walked into the building just before 11 a.m., used a bathroom to change into all-black clothing and a ski mask, then fatally shot 13 teachers -- more than a third of the faculty -- two teenage students and a policeman.

Police said he fired about 40 rounds before turning his 9 mm Glock pistol on himself inside the Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium.

Grube said authorities believe the killer had a Web site and were investigating a home page bearing his name and picture. But someone changed the page 12 hours after his death, Grube said, raising the possibility that the current version is bogus.

Police confiscated from Steinhauser's home violence-laden comics and a number of computer games that featured "intensive weapons usage," Grube said.

He said Steinhaeser's mother told police she had not noticed any unusual behaviour in her son, described by officials and acquaintances as a gun club member who had few if any close friends.

A quirk of Germany's education system also may have contributed to the tragedy. Thuringia, where Erfurt is the state capital, is alone in denying even an intermediate diploma to students who go beyond 10th grade, but then fail twice to pass final exams.

Officials said Steinhauser had failed last year, and his expulsion a few weeks ago deprived him of the second -- and last -- chance for a full diploma, necessary to attend a university or get a decent job.

Crowds continued to gather at the school entrance on Sunday. Flowers overflowed from the steps onto the sidewalk, and candles sputtered in the rain.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer became the latest national figure to pay his respects, placing a bouquet and consoling the tearful school principal as she told him about the horrific events.

Officials cancelled classes for at least a week and said students would receive counseling at Erfurt's city hall. The school remained sealed on Sunday as police continued to secure clues.

Erfurt Mayor Manfred Ruge said after meeting the school's parents, teachers and students Sunday that they had resolved to clean up and reopen the building as soon as possible to "also seize the chance to make a new beginning."

Providing fresh evidence that Steinhauser was bent on killing teachers, police chief Grube said the witnesses recalled the gunman bursting into some classrooms but leaving if he saw no teachers. The two teenage victims, a 14-year-old girl and a 15-year-old boy, were killed when Steinhaeuser fired through a closed door, Grube said.

The one bright spot in a story of horor and bloodshed was the heroism of the 60-year-old teacher who stopped Steinhauser's gun rampage.

Police praised the bravery of Rainer Heise, who confronted the guman and said: "Go ahead and shoot me, but look me in the face."

Steinhauser let down his guard and Heise bundled him into a room and locked the door. Steinhauser shot himself shortly afterwards.


"Shoot me, but Look me in the Face!"

A courageous teacher helped end Friday's shooting at a school in Erfurt, Germany. History teacher Rainer Heise confronted the masked gunman, a 19-year-old former student, and locked him in a classroom.

Germany is still in shock after 19-year-old Robert Steinhäuser (photo) ran amok in his former school on Friday.

The student had recently been expelled from Gutenberg High School. On Friday, he shot and killed 13 teachers, two students and a police officer before killing himself.

But as police and psychologists are still trying to piece together Robert Steinhäuser's motives, the chronology of Friday's shooting is becoming clearer. This weekend, details emerged that the courageous intervention of a teacher ended Steinhäuser's killing spree.

60-year old history and arts teacher Rainer Heise confronted the heavily armed gunman, engaged him in a conversation and managed to lock him in an empty classroom.

Teacher confronts the killer

Rainer Heise was in the midst of teaching sixth graders about art when he heard a noise in the school on Friday morning. "Suddenly I heard a loud bang," Heise told Germany's Bild am Sonntag Sunday-newspaper. "It sounded as though chairs were being thrown around."

At first Heise thought there had been an accident in the school's chemistry lab. As he left his classroom, he saw students running along the school corridors. Suddenly, he was face to face with a man all clad in black.

Heise says the man was wearing a face mask, wielding a gun and shooting into the air. Then the gunman shouted "Damned, I've got to reload" and extracted some bullets from a pocket in his pants.

As the gunman was reloading his pistol, Heise ran to the school secretariat. He shouted and banged on the door, but it was locked. After a short moment, the school principal opened and let him in. "There are dead people here," she told Heise in a trembling voice.

When Heise entered the secretariat, he saw the assistant principal sitting at her desk – shot dead. The school secretary was lying on the floor. She too had been killed. 

Heise suggested to the principal that he would check if all students had gotten out of  the school building. He left the secretariat to look into the classrooms on that floor.

As he checked one of the rooms used for art classes, Heise opened a window and quickly passed on information to the police forces that had amassed outside: "We need four ambulances," Heise shouted. "The gunman is still in this building," he added.

The policemen told Heise to get away from the window. Heise then locked himself into the room to keep the gunman out.

Courageous words end the violence

After a little while, the 60-year-old teacher heard a sound outside the door. He thought it might be a student who hid from the killer somewhere. He opened the door to peek out into the hallway. Right in front of him was the masked gunman, pointing his gun directly at him.

"Then all of a sudden he takes off his face mask," Rainer Heise continues. The teacher realizes the gunman is his former student Robert Steinhäuser. "I ask him: Robert, what's all this about? Was that you shooting?"

Rainer Heise looks at the 19-year-old and calmly says: "'If you're going to kill me, look me in the face. Then he looked at me, dropped the gun and said, 'No, Mr. Heise, that's enough for today,'" the teacher explains.

Oddly, the former student, who had at that point already killed 16 people, replied to Heise in polite and formal language. He respectfully referred to the teacher as "Herr Heise".

Teacher locks former student in empty classroom

Rainer Heise said he then made Robert an offer to talk about what he had done. He made a gesture inviting the disgruntled former student to enter the classroom. As Steinhäuser stepped in, Heise seized his opportunity. "I pushed him into the room and locked the door," Heise said.

Shortly thereafter, as police forces were moving in on him, Robert Steinhäuser shot himself in the head.

Police said late on Saturday the teacher's bravery had prevented an even higher death toll. "A courageous teacher involved the assailant in a discussion and most probably prevented a far worse massacre," said police spokesman Manfred Etzel in Erfurt.

Heise has been hailed a hero in Germany.

The police are now trying to piece together just what drove Robert Steinhäuser to run amok. They have already established that the 19-year old had no previous criminal record. He was a member of two separate gun clubs, and had obtained his weapons legally.

Police say it appears as if Robert Steinhäuser had been planning the attack for a long time - at total some 1200 rounds of ammunition were found on his body and in the apartment he shared with his mother.


A bright but troubled boy who wanted to exact a terrible revenge

A TERRIBLE coldness and a hunger for everlasting infamy drew Robert Steinhäuser to murder 16 people and take his own life in the Erfurt school massacre.

The portrait of a deeply disturbed psychopath who appeared outwardly normal was painted by both friends and mental health experts one day after the bloodbath which stunned the world.

"Just once I want everyone to know my name and for me to be famous," said Steinhäuser, a misfit who sought to be loved by everyone and ended up being shunned instead.

The 19-year-old had an erratic attention span and resented the authority of teachers and his parents. For him, the final provocation was his expulsion from school when teachers realised that he had forged a doctor’s note he hoped would save him from the exams he might fail.

As police waded through the carnage of the Gutenberg Gymnasium school in Erfurt, eastern Germany, yesterday, the wreckage of the killer’s life was being slowly dissected by former friends, by family members, by the media and the police.

Even his own grandfather, when told the news by police about what had happened, told them: "He is dead too? Then there’s a good ending to it all."

Steinhäuser was one of those society has every right to fear most - a ghost in the machine who outwardly fitted in with everything until the day when nothing clicked any more.

A bright boy who lived with his divorced mother in Erfurt’s Ottostrasse, just five minutes from the school, Steinhäuser carried the scars of parental battles on the inside.

"Robert was a troubled youth but it was a trouble that he largely masked," said Erich Sixtmann, a friend of his father, an engineer for the Siemens company.

"He was rude with teachers, got reports on his card like ‘doesn’t respond to discipline well’. But he wasn’t a kid who pulled the wings of butterflies or tortured cats.

"He became introverted from about the age of 12. He liked military things, guns and collected a lot of books on the war. I don’t think it was a Hitler worship thing, but who knows now.

"In the gun club he found an acceptance that I think he found hard to get in everyday social contact. He didn’t have a girlfriend, for example, and took to dressing in black and hanging out with ‘gothic’ dressing friends.

"He was in search of who he really was. Had he been booted out of school and given some counselling then this might not have happened. But he wasn’t and it did. He was immature and lashed out. This was some terrible revenge, the motive for which was buried deep beneath a benign, outwardly peaceful exterior."

In the weeks leading up to his expulsion for failing to meet A-level standards, he falsified many sick notes to spend days off firing his gun collection on the range at the local club.

He had collected several weapons, including the pistol and pump-action-shotgun that he would use as his tools of vengeance last Thursday.

But the expulsion was merely the culmination of an uneasy relationship between Steinhäuser and his school. On a school field trip to Berlin he pretended to execute a teacher, pretending his hand was a pistol.

"He pretended to make a pistol out of his hand and was full of hatred as he took aim at the teacher. The teacher was extremely angry. Robert got a reprimand for that. He said he was just fooling around," said Cassandra Mehlhorn, 19.

"I never thought of him as a person capable of something like this," 18-year-old Thomas Rethfeldt said.

"Some say he was picked on, but if he was it wasn’t much. He was reserved. I never thought he was a person capable of violence. He was actually rather intelligent but he didn’t seem to care very much about school. There was nothing at all out of the ordinary about him."

But the police were probing rumours of links to Satanism nonetheless. Eastern Germany is a region riddled with despair, a gnawing desperation that has driven 15 young people in the past two years to end their lives in a bizarre tribute to Satan.

One psychiatrist, who didn’t want to be named, told a local television station in Thuringia: "He was a timebomb all right. Some release the pressure through love or sex or drink but sometimes the pressure is too great.

"Jeffrey Dahmer, the cannibal killer, gave into it in the end. Charlie Manson, the boys who ran amok at Columbine. There is a broad belief for disaffected youth that there is something almost erotic, something sexy, about death and destruction. Unformed minds seize on to this like a limpet. He was such a limpet."

People believe there has to be a reason why he murdered when he seemed to have so much to live for. "He had good grades," said Isabelle Hartung, 18.

She added marks were not the reason he was expelled, even though the school for college-bound students was known for its academic record, sending many of its 800 students each year to such famous educational academies as the universities of Heidelberg and Göttingen.

Hartung added: "He once told me he wanted to be famous and known to everyone. Now when I think back to what he said it really freaks me out."

One teacher described the former student on German television as a calm and reserved person.

"He never seemed to seek any conflict," Claudia Hickl, a friend of his mother, said. "Robert was tightly wound up, you could see that. He was polite but I often wondered what was behind that politeness.

"He was looking for love I think and was deeply disturbed when his parents split up when he was just 11 or 12.

"His mother told me once she though about getting him counselling but hoped he would ‘grow out’ of his moods. Some days he would not talk to her for hours on end, just sitting in his room playing heavy metal records over and over.

"He was a boy who demanded attention. Perhaps he should have received it."

Having wiped out one quarter of his school’s teaching complement in a little over 10 minutes it is a sentiment that many share. Steinhäuser was a boy who slipped through the net with devastating consequences for society.


Unsuspecting parents wished gunman 'good luck' before school killings

The teenager who killed 16 staff and pupils at a respected grammar school in Germany was living a lie and kept his unsuspecting parents in the dark for two months after being expelled, police said yesterday.

As Robert Steinhäuser left home on Friday armed with a pump-action shotgun and a pistol with the intention of massacring his former teachers, his mother thought he was going to sit a maths exam. "She said 'goodbye and good luck'," said Rainer Grube, the police chief in Erfurt. "The parents thought he was going to school every day and was on course to pass his exams."

Police believe the 19-year-oldhad been tearing up letters sent to his home by the school.

Parents of pupils at the Gutenberg-Gymnasium school claimed yesterday that rigid exams put too much pressure on teenagers and may have contributed to the alienation of Steinhäuser, who systematically picked off his former teachers during the rampage.

Inflexible rules unique to the federal state of Thuringia mean that pupils who fail the prestigious Abitur examination, equivalent to A-levels, are not compensated with a lesser qualification, which they would receive in other states. Instead they are left empty-handed and with limited job prospects after 12 years' education.

Steinhäuser fell behind at school last year and resorted to forging doctor's notes to avoid sitting examinations before he was caught and expelled in February. His movements in the months before the shooting remain a mystery.

Andreas Stute, the father of a pupil at the school, said: "Those who have failed to graduate find themselves with nothing to fall back on. They fall into a deep hole."

A series of closed meetings attended by pupils and parents were held yesterday in Erfurt's town hall. At a press conference, Thuringia's state education minister came under pressure to reform the system. Graf Polier, a counsellor and father of a 17-year-old girl at the school said: "This man [Steinhäuser] was psychologically ill. He rebelled because he had been rejected by the system and had nothing to look forward to."

The majority of school staff remain in deep shock and were notable by their absence from the meetings. Instead parents and pupils paid tribute to their "heroic" reaction, in particular the role played by Rainer Heise, the history teacher who managed to lock the gunman into a storeroom where he killed himself.

Speaking on behalf of other, visibly traumatised classmates, Michaela Seidel, a sixth-former, dismissed proposals to resume the examinations that were taking place on Friday when the rampage began.

Ms Seidel, who had finished her maths paper and left 10 minutes before Steinhäuser burst in, said: "It is unbelievable that we would have to do this exam again. I will never be able to sit another exam in my life."

Classes will resume this morning in the town hall, a gathering point for mourners, but pupils will not be required to bring their exercise books. Instead a psychologist has been assigned to each class. Harald Düring, the father of boys aged 14 and 16, said: "My youngest has has morbid thoughts. He saw his teacher killed and spent two hours barricaded in his classroom. Then someone came through the door and he didn't know whether it would be the killer or the police. Thank God it was the police."

Police confirmed that Steinhäuser, who was almost certainly acting alone, specifically targeted teachers during his rampage. The two pupils who died ­ a 14 and 15-year-old ­ were probably hit by stray bullets as the gunman shot through a locked or barricaded classroom door, police said.

Police who searched Steinhäuser's home removed a collection of violence-laden comics and computer games that featured "intensive weapons usage". Steinhäuser's mother told police she had not noticed any unusual behaviour in her son, who was described by officials and acquaintances as a gun club member who had few if any close friends.

A 60-year-old art and history teacher was hailed across Germany as the "hero of Erfurt" yesterday for ending the killing spree by a former student who rampaged through the local grammar school.

In interviews with German media, Rainer Heise described how he was supervising a painting class on Friday morning when the shooting started. He went into the corridor and caught a glimpse of the gunman and then dashed into the adjacent office, where he found the headmistress trembling with shock and her deputy shot dead and slumped over her desk. He called for help from the window and then locked himself in the art cupboard.

But he heard Steinhäuser return, after shooting 16 people dead. Mr Heiseconfronted the black-clad gunman, removing his mask and recognising him as one of his former pupils. In an account to ZDF television, Mr Heise explained: "I said, 'Pull the trigger. If you shoot me now, then look in my eyes.' So he looks at me, lowers the pistol and says: 'That was enough for one day, Mr Heise'."

The teacher locked Steinhäuser into a room where he was found by police in a pool of blood and with ammunition for a further 500 shots by his side.

Mr Heise said he did not know why he survived. "Perhaps he just liked me. Perhaps he didn't think I was bad." He also recalled an exchange between Steinhäuser and a teacher who was to become one of his victims. When Hans Lippe caught Steinhäuser smoking a cigar on a field trip in 2000, the student became confrontational. "He had his hands in his pockets like this," Mr Heise said, putting three fingers in each front pocket of his trousers and using his thumbs to form pretend pistols.

"The student was drunk. He walked toward Mr Lippe and, with the cigar hanging from his mouth, he pointed the fingers at him and said, 'Rat-a-tat-a-tat-a-tat, you're dead."'


Robert's day

IT was about 9.30am on Friday when Robert Steinhäuser left his grandparents' home on the outskirts of the baroque town of Erfurt, in what was once East Germany, and hopped on a bus for the 20-minute journey to his former school, the Gutenburg Gymnasium.

The school had expelled him in February for disruptive behaviour and he would otherwise have been sitting his arbitur (higher) exams for a place at university. Instead he packed a bag for school with a mask, Ninja fighting costume, two guns, a pump-action shotgun and a pistol and more than 500 rounds of bullets.

Once the short journey was over, the 19-year-old stood in the playground for nearly an hour smoking cigarettes before entering the school. He changed into his killing clothes in a bathroom, concealing the guns beneath a long, black coat -- reminiscent of the so-called Trenchcoat Mafia killers, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, who murdered 12 students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April 1999.

Steinhäuser then made his way to Room 209 where a maths exam was underway. Juliane Blank, who was in the classroom, said: 'He must have opened the door without being heard.' He sat at the back and as the teacher asked students to turn over their papers, he suddenly leaped to his feet saying: 'I'm not going to take this test.' That's when the shooting started.

Ten minutes later 16 people were dead: 13 teachers, two female pupils and a police officer. Four hours later, when the German police's elite SEK or Special Action Commandos were completing a room-to-room search of the school, they found a 17th body -- Robert Steinhäuser. He'd blown his own head off.

When the first shot was fired, children nearby thought it was a joke -- a fire cracker let off early to celebrate the end of exams. During the four-hour police hunt through the school, dozens of children were trapped in classrooms as police initially thought there were two gunmen on the loose. Meanwhile a state of emergency was declared in the city of 200,000 inhabitants.

Steinhäuser had a predilection for guns, Nazis and Satanism -- the predictable unholy trinity of hang-ups for disturbed teenagers with a grudge against their schools and society.

He was part of the sinister Blue Rose Cult -- an internet-based ring of lonely and delinquent youngsters, who are into Gothic music and devil-worship. The cult has been linked to at least 15 teenage suicides in eastern Germany in the past two years, and there have been reports that some members have slaughtered animals as part of satanic rituals.

Others take part in bizarre rituals where they slash each other with razors and then drink the blood of their friends. The group encourages teenagers to talk about their 'miserable lives and useless existence' in chatrooms. It is a fine blend of alienation, existential teenage angst and a numbed fascination with ultra- violence and the dark side.

Via email, members of the Blue Rose Cult even encourage each other to commit suicide. In November 2000, an 18-year-old from Klietz in Germany jumped out of his window to his death. On his computer were messages from the Blue Rose Cult telling him to take his own life.

Steinhäuser, it seems, made an unlikely mass murderer. Isabell Hartung, one of his schoolmates , said he was intelligent and well-liked by his peers but often fought with teachers and had a bad relationship with his parents. 'The crime just doesn't fit him at all,' she said. ' He was a funny guy who liked his life.'

He certainly wasn't the typical bullied 'weirdo'. He lived with his mother in the suburbs but was in regular contact with his father. Hartung said Steinhäuser 'may have blown a mental fuse' as the graduation date of his friends approached. 'He was always trying to make an impression,' she said, adding that this caused him to run into conflict with his teachers. 'I remember him saying: 'Just for once, I'd like to be known to everyone. One day, I want everyone to know my name. I want to be famous.'

Another classmate, Thomas Rethfeldt said: ' He was reserved -- I never thought he was capable of violence.' A teacher at the school, Andreas Foerster, recalled that he was 'a quiet and reasonable sort of guy. I see him before my eyes and I just cannot fathom that he would be capable of a crime like this.' Lisa Engelhardt, a next-door neighbour of Steinhäuser, said the family seemed happy, with the boy's father regularly coming over for barbecues in the back garden.

Police spokesman Achim Kellner said Steinhäuser was angry over being expelled from school after forging a doctor's note as an excuse to stay off school and play truant. 'This was an act of revenge,' Kellner said.

Adding anger to the disbelief and shock felt in Germany was the revelation that Steinhäuser was a member of two gun clubs and had a licence to possess weapons. With the grimmest of ironies, German politicians were debating further tightening of the nation's gun laws as he carried out his massacre. There are at least seven million legal weapons in Germany, but perhaps twice that number in illegal guns smuggled in from eastern Europe and the Balkans.

Within minutes of the shooting starting, local police logged a call from the school's janitor at 11.05am reporting gunfire on the premises. Two officers arrived at the scene in a patrol car almost immediately. Steinhäuser opened fire, fatally injuring one officer outside the school, before fleeing back inside the building. A school secretary then phoned police saying a teenager had taken people hostage and was waving a gun around. Later, when local reporters called the school for confirmation of the shootings, the secretary told them: 'All hell has broken lose here. You must get off the lines!'

Half an hour later, police commandos stormed the school and evacuated 180 pupils. Most of the 700 students had fled during Steinhäuser's initial rampage. It is thought that Steinhäuser stopped shooting when one teacher bravely tore the black mask from his face. He was apparently so startled that he stopped shooting and then locked himself in a toilet where he was later found dead.

His killings bore the hallmarks of a trained marksman. Most of the victims had been shot in the head and many were immediately unidentifiable because of their terrible facial injuries. Some of the murdered male teachers were even indistinguishable from their dead female colleagues, police explained.

'We were sitting in class doing our work and we heard a shooting sound,' said Filip Niemann. 'The teacher let us go out to see what was happening and when we left the classroom , there was a masked person in black holding his gun from his shoulder. He stretched out his gun and shot. We saw a teacher fall to the ground. We just turned and ran. I heard from other kids that the gunman opened classroom doors and aimed at teachers.

'Even if I believed in God, I would not believe in Him anymore. How could He let something like this happen? What I have seen today will stay with me for the rest of my life.'

The chemistry teacher died first, followed by the English master and then the French mistress, as Steinhäuser worked his way murderously around the school departments. Police described it as a 'turkey shoot'. In all, nine male teachers and five female teachers died, shot at point-blank range. Bodies lay in corridors, in rooms and in toilets. A police officer said: 'It was truly a bloodbath because blood was flowing down the corridors like water spilled from a bucket.'

Melanie Steinbruck, 13, said: 'I heard shooting and thought it was a joke, but then I saw a teacher dead in the hallway and a gunman in black carrying a weapon.' Seventeen-year-old Kerstin Gubler said: 'I saw him in the corridor. All I could see were burning eyes, aflame with hatred.'

Soon the gunfire and terror in the corridors abated as cowering students hid in classrooms hoping that Steinhäuser wasn't coming to get them next. Klara Uhse, 14, described the silent panic that gripped the school: 'It was a nightmare -- first the shots, then the moans of people being hit. I was under my desk all the time, pushed into a corner and hidden by a bookcase. I could hear people in the classroom tap-tap-tapping messages on to their mobiles. Nobody wanted to speak in case he came in and shot us too.'

A 13-year-old survivor sent her mother this text message:


German radio played a frantic mobile phone call made by a child to her mother: 'We're all crammed into one room. The teacher's one of the dead. Everyone's crying.' A petrified child held a sign at a window bearing just one word 'Hilfe' -- help.

Another pupil, who asked only to be called Felix said: 'At the end of our lesson, three pupils went out and came back in with shocked faces saying 'this can't be true'. I followed them and around the corner was one of my teachers lying on the floor. At first I didn't realise what was going on and walked up to him and said to the others 'this is just a joke'.

'I felt his pulse and tried to talk to him but he wasn't there any more. It looked unreal.' A second teacher was also lying dying nearby and pupils tried to help him. 'He was still shaking. Shots followed and somebody said 'get out, get out'. I grabbed my rucksack and ran out.

'The gunman shot people one by one,' said a police spokesman. 'It was an incredibly cruel and calculated execution of innocent people. Teachers were the main target and the two pupils who died probably just got in his way.'

Rainer Gruber, president of the Erfurt police, said: 'When the special troops arrived, they systematically searched the building and found a picture of horror -- corpses in the corridors, in the classrooms and in the lavatory.'

As police commandos swarmed through the building, setting up sniper nests in nearby buildings, parents began arriving at the school, tearfully registering the names of their children so they could be checked off as living.

There was no way for Germany to come to terms with this crime. The Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said it was a 'tragedy on an unparalleled scale', and the people of the town placed candles outside the school spelling out the word 'Why?'

But it was perhaps one ordinary and bewildered police officer who summed up the brutality and simple banality of the evil that had taken place in Erfurt. When a housewife who lived near the school asked him why the skies were filled with helicopters and why there were armoured cars on the streets, he looked at her, lost for a moment and then said: 'Madame, it's a massacre.'


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