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German police: eight dead in Jehovah’s Witnesses hall shooting

After officers arrived on the scene and found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, they heard a shot from an upper floor and found a fatally wounded person upstairs who may have been the shooter

Armed police officers near the scene of a shooting in Hamburg, Germany on March 9, 2023, after one or more people opened fire in a church.
Armed police officers near the scene of a shooting in Hamburg, Germany on March 9, 2023, after one or more people opened fire in a church.Jonas Walzberg (AP)

Police say eight people were killed in a shooting at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in Hamburg, apparently including the perpetrator. An unspecified number of others were wounded, some of them seriously. Police gave the figure on their website Friday morning.

There was still no word on a possible motive for the shooting on Thursday evening that stunned Germany’s second-biggest city. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, described the shooting as “a brutal act of violence.”

Police said during the night that they believe that there was only one shooter, and that that this could be a person who was found dead in the building.

Investigators worked through the night to secure evidence. On Friday morning, forensic investigators in protective white suits could still be seen outside the building as a light snow fell. Officers placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.

Hamburg officials said there would be a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss details.

David Semonian, a U.S.-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said in an emailed statement early Friday that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event.”

The scene of the shooting was the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, a modern and boxy three-story building next door to an auto repair shop.

Vehren said police were alerted to the shooting about 9.15 pm and were on the scene quickly.

He said that after officers arrived and found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, they heard a shot from an upper floor and found a fatally wounded person upstairs who may have been a shooter. He said police did not have to use their firearms.

Vehren said there was no indication that a shooter was on the run and that it appeared likely that the perpetrator was either in the building or among the dead.

Police said in the early hours Friday that they were still working to verify that no further perpetrators were involved.

Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said “there were about four periods of shooting,” German news agency dpa reported. “There were always several shots in these periods, roughly at intervals of 20 seconds to a minute,” she said.

She said she looked out her window and saw a person running from the ground floor to the second floor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall.

Gregor Miesbach, who lives within sight of the building, was alerted by the sound of shots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window. Shots can then be heard from inside. The figure later apparently emerges from the hall, is seen in the courtyard and then fires more shots inside.

Miesbach told German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 shots. After police arrived, one last shot followed about five minutes later, he said.

Police had no information on the event that was under way in the building when the shooting took place.

They also had no immediate information on a possible motive. Vehren said that “the background is still completely unclear.”

Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher tweeted that the news was “shocking” and offered his sympathy to the victims’ relatives.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church, founded in the United States in the 19th century and headquartered in Warwick, New York. It claims a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany.

Members are known for their evangelistic efforts that include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. The denomination’s distinctive practices include a refusal to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag or participate in secular government.

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