Emergency workers and police gather at the scene of the shooting in Hamburg, Germany, on Thursday
A pregnant woman was injured but her unborn baby died in the attack, which has stunned Germany’s second-biggest city.
A gunman in Germany killed seven people, including an unborn child, before turning the weapon on himself at a Jehovah’s Witness worship hall in the city of Hamburg, police and prosecutors said on Friday.
The 35-year-old suspect, a German citizen and former Jehovah’s Witness, used a semi-automatic pistol he had legally owned since December in the shooting on Thursday evening, a Hamburg state prosecutor said at a joint news conference with police.
A woman who was seven months pregnant was among the injured. Her foetus did not survive.
The attack has stunned Germany’s second-biggest city. There is yet no word on a possible motive.
Regional interior minister Andy Grote said the attacker fled to the first floor of the building after police burst in “and killed himself”, adding that the rapid police deployment likely “saved many lives”.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, said he was left “speechless” by the “brutal act of violence”.
“We fear that further victims may die from their severe wounds,” he said.
Authorities identified the suspect as Philipp F. He had left the religious community about 18 months ago “but apparently not on good terms”, said Thomas Radszuweit, Hamburg’s head of state security.
There was “no indication of a terrorist background” to the attack, a spokesman for the Hamburg prosecution’s office said.
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 light snow fell. Officers placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.
Al Jazeera’s William Peacock, reporting from Hamburg, said bodies were being removed on Friday.
Police have asked witnesses to come forward and upload any pictures or videos they may have to a special website.
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.
David Semonian, a US-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event”.
‘A shot from above’
The suspect shot nine magazines of ammunition.
A video, posted online by the Bild newspaper, showed a person firing multiple shots into the building through a first-floor window before the lights inside the room went out.
Germany’s dpa news agency, citing a reporter on the scene, reported residents in the city’s northern Alsterdorf district received warnings on their mobile phones of a “life-threatening situation”.
Television footage showed dozens of police cars as well as fire engines blocking streets and some people wrapped in blankets being led by emergency service workers into a bus.
Police said they had received an emergency call soon after 9pm (20:00 GMT) and officers arrived at the scene to find several people seriously wounded and some dead.
“Then they heard a shot from above. They went upstairs and found one further person,” said a police spokesperson.
Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said there were about “four periods of shooting”.
“There were always several shots in these periods, roughly at intervals of 20 seconds to a minute,” Bauch said.
Gregor Miesbach, who lives within sight of the building, told the German television news agency NonstopNews he heard at least 25 shots. After police arrived, one last shot followed about five minutes later, he said.
The mayor of Hamburg expressed shock at Thursday’s bloodshed.
“I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. The forces are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background,” Peter Tschentscher said on Twitter.
Mass shootings are relatively rare in Germany, but several tragedies have shaken the country in recent years.
In February 2020, a gunman with suspected far-right links killed nine people, including refugees from Turkey, in the western town of Hanau, before killing himself and his mother.
In October 2019, a gunman killed two people when he opened fire outside a synagogue in the eastern city of Halle on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur.