Gunman kills seven in Dutch shopping mall

Killer terrorises small commuter town in the Netherlands, injuring a further 15 people, before shooting himself in the head
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The Independent Online

A gunman armed with an automatic rifle killed at least seven people in a shopping centre 15 miles south-east of Amsterdam yesterday, injuring 15 others before shooting himself – fatally – in the head.

The attack took place at around midday, the busiest time of the week for shoppers, at the Ridderhof mall in the town of Alphen aan den Rijn. Four of the wounded were in a critical condition yesterday evening and another five have serious injuries. All were being treated at hospitals in the region.

The gunman was identified last night by police as Tristan van der Vlis, 24, who lived in the town with his father and was said to have left a "goodbye" letter for his mother. Investigators said he had a licence to own five firearms.

The town's acting mayor, Bas Eenhoorn, called the incident "a disaster of unparalleled proportions" for the small commuter town, and said that investigators were urgently seeking further information on the gunman.

No motive for the killings has yet been identified and it appears he targeted his victims randomly.

The Dutch Prime Minister, Mark Rutte, said in a statement: "My thoughts are with victims, survivors, and all who have been involved in this tragedy."

There are unconfirmed reports that Van der Vlis walked twice around the mall, firing from an automatic rifle, before shooting himself with a pistol at the checkout of a supermarket within the complex. Bodies were also found in the car park. Witnesses said the shooting lasted between 10 and 20 minutes.

Police evacuated the shopping centre before a specialist firearms team arrived.

Mr Eenhoorn said the mall was packed with families doing their shopping. "It's hardly credible that our town could experience such slaughter, and on a day as beautiful as this," he said, offering his condolences to relatives of the victims.

One eyewitness, a shop owner, told the Dutch state broadcaster, NOS Television: "Some people were running to the exit, shouting 'Shots, shots'. I saw two people lying on the floor as a young man approached."

An elderly woman told the broadcaster: "He was big and dressed in camouflage pants. He moved about without haste, killing in cold blood."

Maart Verbeek, the owner of a pet shop in the mall, told NOS: "Everyone was running. I saw people on the ground. When I saw the gunman, I ran and closed the metal shutters."

"Initially, we thought it was fireworks," said Hajam Leouesset, a young woman who witnessed the killings. "But then we saw people running in all directions and we heard them scream. Then I saw a man firing shots with a type of machine-gun and there was blood everywhere." According to Ms Leouesset, the killer "shot himself with another gun, near the cash registers at the supermarket".

A local resident, Rob Kuipers, said: "You hear about this sort of thing happening at American schools and you think that's a long way away. Now it's happened here in the Netherlands."

Alphen aan den Rijn has a population of 72,000 and is a commuter town for those working in Amsterdam. It is known as a typically quiet suburb.

However, yesterday's killing spree was the second shooting in the district this month. Two people were killed in a suspected drug-related incident on 2 April. Officials are not linking the two events.