German police are searching for answers after a gunman opened fire upon a Jehovah’s Witness hall in the northern city of Hamburg on Thursday night, before turning the gun on himself.
Police said that the attacker – a 35-year-old German citizen, identified only as Philipp F., in line with the country’s privacy laws – was himself a former member of the congregation, who had left about 18 months earlier and harboured “ill feelings” towards the congregation.
Those killed in the attack, which Hamburg police chief Matthias Tresp described as a “rampage,” included four men and two women aged between 33 and 60.
Eight people were injured in the attack, four of them seriously. A woman who was seven months pregnant was among the injured, but she lost the baby, police said.
Police said the violence began shortly after 9PM local time at the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall in Hamburg’s Gross Borstel district, where about 50 people had gathered for a religious service.
Footage taken nearby showed the attacker shooting bursts of fire through a window of the building. Police said the door to the hall had been locked, and the gunman had entered through the window he’d shot open.
A police spokesperson said officers had arrived at the scene shortly after they were alerted to the shooting, finding the victims already killed or injured.
The gunman then killed himself with his own weapon on the floor above where the shootings had taken place.
Prosecutors said that while they were still searching for a motive, they’ve ruled out any political motivation for the attack.
Tresp told reporters at a briefing on Friday that the gunman, who had no criminal history, had used a semi-automatic pistol to carry out the attack, which he had a licence for as a marksman.
He said police had received an anonymous tipoff in January expressing concerns about the gunman and his access to weapons, and warning about his animosity towards the congregation.
As a result, officers paid him an unannounced visit at his home in February to assess the situation. But based on their conversation, the officers saw no grounds to take action, police said.
In a statement, the Jehovah's Witness community in Germany, which numbers about 170,000 people, said it was "deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz described the attack as “a brutal act of violence” and said his thoughts were with the victims, their families and the security forces who had responded.
Hamburg’s Interior Minister Andy Grote praised police for their "fast and decisive actions" which he said had saved many lives, describing the attack as the "worst crime" in the city’s recent history.