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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Fighting back tears, Erfurt police chief Rainer Grube
told reporters: "It was his daughter's birthday today."
Schoolboy's deadly revenge
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.
Gun club member angry
at expulsion for forged excuses
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
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
Lockeed him in room of
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.
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
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.
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
Shame of German gunman's family
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
They say they had no idea of his plans. "Until
this brutal act of madness, we were a totally normal family," they
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
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.
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
Survivor Kerstin Gübler, 17, said: “I saw him in
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Robert Steinhauser even told his unsuspecting parents
hours before the massacre that he was going to class to take a maths
Officials told The Associated Press his mother wished
her son good luck on the exam as he left the house to begin his deadly
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
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
A bright but troubled boy who wanted to exact a
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
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
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
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
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
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."'
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
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
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
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
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.'