Four dead in German teenager's gun attack

A TEENAGER shot his sister dead, fired indiscriminately on passers- by and eventually killed himself yesterday as a family tragedy engulfed the Bavarian skiing paradise of Bad Reichenhall.

The 16-year-old boy, armed with high-calibre guns belonging to his father and a large quantity of ammunition, began shooting out of the window of his home just after noon. "He fired at everything that moved," a police spokesman said.

Perched by the window, he kept up the salvo for 45 minutes, aiming at people going in and out of the hospital next door. A woman and a man were killed but their bodies could not be recovered for several hours because the boy also fired at paramedics.

Another six injured could also not be helped until the armour-plated BMW of the Prime Minister of Bavaria, Edmund Stoiber, arrived. Mr Stoiber lent police his vehicle so that the most severely injured could be taken to Salzburg in Austria, which had the nearest hospital equipped for such an emergency.

The boy's identity was not revealed for legal reasons. Police said that he had probably taken the weapons from his father's gun cabinet. The father is a member of a local shooting club. As a small child, the boy had been banished from at least one home in the neighbourhood because of his alleged fascination with toy guns.

Police could not shed light on the boy's motives. His parents were reported to have watched the tragedy from the street, advising police on how to handle their son.

Confusion surrounded the exact sequence of events. According to a 79- year-old neighbour, Alfred Wolzem, there had been some shooting in the morning. The sound of gunfire is not uncommon in the Bavarian village, where according to local custom newlyweds are greeted with such a salute, but Mr Wolzem was surprised to hear five shots as he was eating his breakfast. "I asked myself: who is getting married on All Saints' Day?" he said.

The rest of the villagers became aware of the tragedy when they heard the sustained shooting in the street. The teenager opened fire at a quarter past 12, and kept shooting until one o'clock. Then everything fell silent.

Hundreds of crack police armed with sub-machine-guns had arrived in the meantime, blocking off the streets to keep onlookers away. The officers took up their positions about 100 yards from the apartment, but all attempts to talk to the assailant failed. There was no response from the building.

The police narrowed down the possibilities to three. The boy had either fallen unconscious, or killed himself, or somehow fled the scene. Finally, six hours after the first bullets had begun raining down on the streets, the order was given to storm the apartment. As darkness fell, a special commando unit burst through the door, their weapons cocked, but never fired. Inside lay the bodies of the teenager and a woman, believed to have been his 18-year-old sister.

According to one villager, the assailant was "a quite normal lad", although somewhat obsessed with weapons. A school friend recalled that the boy had often boasted about his prowess with guns.

The shooting drew comparisons with April's school tragedy in Littleton, Colorado, where two teenagers killed 12 students and a teacher. Germany, like the United States, has a strong gun culture, especially in rural areas, where the shooting club is often the focal point of social life.

Yesterday's carnage is certain to provoke a debate in the country about the wide availability of firearms. Although such incidents are rare, the blood-bath in Bad Reichenhall is the second in Bavaria in three months. In August, a gunman in Dachau shot and injured three people before turning his weapon on himself.

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