Teacher says he confronted, locked up gunman whose school shooting rampage left 17 dead

Friday, April 26th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ERFURT, Germany (AP) _ A history teacher recounted on Saturday how he confronted the teen who carried out a school shooting spree 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 Steinhaeuser, killed 16 people before fatally shooting himself in the classroom. Police lowered the total number of dead, including the gunman, to 17 on Saturday.

Officials and acquaintances on Saturday described Steinhaeuser as a gun enthusiast and expert marksman who was bent on killing as many teachers as he could in revenge for being expelled from the school, Johann Gutenberg Gymnasium, over a forged doctor's note.

Thirteen of his victims were teachers. After the bloodshed, investigators found 500 unspent rounds of ammunition near his body and another 500 rounds at his home.

Steinhaeuser, dressed in black and wearing a mask, began his shooting spree at abour 11 a.m., marching down the halls and opening fire with a handgun and a shotgun. At one point, witnesses said he stepped outside the school then returned inside.

History teacher Rainer Heise said he and the gunman came across each other in a hallway, and Steinhaeuser suddenly took off the mask.

``I said: `Pull the trigger. If you shoot me now, then look in my eyes','' Heise said on ZDF television. ``So he looks at me, lowers the pistol and says: `That's enough for today, Mr. Heise.'''

Heise said he then pushed the gunman into a classroom, slammed the door and locked it, took the key and ran down to the principal's office.

Soon afterward, police commandos swarmed into the building, and Steinhaeuser fatally shot himself.

Steinhaeuser, a member of two local gun clubs, was seeking revenge, after he was expelled from the school recently for faking a doctor's note in an attempt to avoid final exams, police spokesman Achim Kellner said. He could not say exactly when Steinhaeuser was expelled. ``He was generally not a diligent student, he liked to skip classes.''

Mourners on Saturday gathered quietly on the lawn in front of the stately, turn-of-the-century school building. Couples held hands, and friends comforted each other. Amid the flood of flowers was a note signed by the children of Birgit Dietz, one of the slain teachers.

``Mama, I love you. I always have and I always will, even though you've been taken away,'' the note read.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder visited the school Saturday to pay tribute, placing a large white and yellow bouquet on top of the other flowers. His hands clasped in front of him, Schroeder stood silently amid a steady rain before going to a memorial service for the victims at the city's St. Mary's cathedral.

Hundreds of people waited silently in a long line to sign a condolence book in City Hall in Erfurt, home to about 200,000 poeple in former communist East Germany.

Flags flew at half-staff throughout the country Saturday. One of the gun clubs that Steinhaeuser belonged to was quiet, devoid of the usual crowd that comes for weekend target practice, locals said. The club _ the Domblick Schiessverein _ is where East German police once trained.

Police in Erfurt said they were questioning relatives of the gunman as well as students. Steinhaeuser's mother told police she had seen no warning signs in her son's behavior.

Robert Steinhaeuser lived with his grandparents in a tidy, middle-class Erfurt neighborhood of renovated row houses. Lisa Engelhardt, who lives next door, said his parents did not live together but that Robert's father came over on weekends, and the whole family would have a barbecue in the garden.

``The Steinhaeusers were always friendly people,'' she said. ``He (Robert) seemed very normal.''

Survivors from the school described the young man brutally gunning teachers down.

Christian Becker, a student, said he looked out his classroom window and saw Steinhaeuser shoot a teacher point-blank in the parking lot.

``She was running for her car and she tripped, and he shot her in the leg,'' the 19-year-old Becker said Saturday. ``He ran over and shot her three times in the head with his pistol and ran back into the school.''

Another student, Dominik Ulbricht, also was in class when the shooting begin.

``I thought it was fireworks. Then the door opened, and a masked man came through the door. The teacher was standing there, and he shot her through the head, through her glasses,'' Ulbricht said, tears welling up in his eyes. ``I ran and didn't look back.''

Also killed were a 15-year-old boy, a 14-year-old girl and a policeman who had responded to an alert by the school janitor. Ten people were injured, but none critically.

Bernhard Vogel, governor of Thuringia state, said at a news conference Saturday that Steinhaeuser had deliberately targeted teachers.

``In many cases, the victims were shot in the head. He clearly was a trained marksman,'' Vogel said, adding that Steinhaeuser failed his final exams last year and ``could have repeated them this year had he not been expelled.''

Steinhaeuser had obtained his weapons legally and had no criminal record, Manfred Scherer, a state security official, said. Police earlier said Steinhaeuser had a license to possess weapons, but limited him to handling them at shooting clubs.

The Erfurt death toll nearly matched that of the 1996 shooting at an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland, where 16 children, a teacher and the gunman died. Fifteen people, included two teen-age gunmen, died in the April 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in the United States.

Germany's only comparable violence since World War II was a terrorist attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which 17 died.

But it was Germany's second school shooting in two months. In February, a 22-year-old German who had recently lost his job shot and killed two former bosses and his old high school's principal outside Munich.