At first there were just a handful of people gathered outside the house on Eppmannsweg – an unremarkable street in a run-down Gelsenkirchen suburb. But with each day more arrived.
They drank beer, pelted the home’s balcony with eggs and paint bombs and screamed the words “child abusers” at the frightened 58-year-old man and his 42-year-old stepson cowering inside. Police arrived and were instantly accused by the 200-strong crowd of “protecting paedophiles”. Officers tried to explain that there were no paedophiles in the house. “Most weren’t interested in that,” one of the officers recalled.
The crowd stayed put until well after midnight. It was a suspicious neighbour who lit the lynch mob’s fuse. She told police she had seen the men take two young children into the house with them. Within a matter of hours, allegations of child abuse appeared on a Facebook site called “Police News Gelsenkirchen”.
The site had nothing to do with the police. The mob arrived all the same. It emerged that the older man had been keeping an eye on his neighbours’ children for years. They used to sit on the playground opposite his house and eat ice cream. “He used to clean their faces afterwards – there was nothing more to it than that,” the officers explained.
The mob has disappeared from Eppmannsweg, but the two men are still barricaded inside their home. The police say they are not eligible for a permanent guard because they are not technically crime victims.