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gun violence

Young People in the Netherlands Tell Us How They Experienced the Tram Shooting

It's still unclear what the gunman's motives were.

by Sona Boker; photos by David Meulenbeld
Mar 20 2019, 12:30pm

This article originally appeared on VICE Netherlands.

On Monday, March 18, the Dutch city of Utrecht in Netherlands was hit by a shooting in a tram that left three dead and several others wounded. In the immediate aftermath, the country was left wondering not just who the shooter was, but also what his motives were. We now know that 37-year-old Gokmen Tanis has been arrested, but that didn't immediately clear up the "why?" question.

Authorities didn't rule out the possibility of it having been a terrorist attack—given the fact that a note had been found with a getaway car—while also keeping the option open that it might have been a targeted killing for personal reasons. Soon, reports emerged of Tanis's past and how he had already stood trial for, among other things, break-ins, robbery, attempted homicide, and rape—while people who knew him characterized him as a "drug-addled lunatic, a drug dealer, and all-around unstable guy."

Media and experts in the country have been wildly speculating about what Tanis's motivations could have been—a random act of violence, an honor killing, a response to the attack in Christchurch? In a press conference on Monday, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte landed on the more general word "attack." At this point, it's still not confirmed why the shooter pulled out a gun.

I went to Kanaleneiland, the neighborhood in Utrecht, Netherlands, where the shooting occurred, and asked young people living there how they felt about all this speculation, where they were that afternoon, and if they look at their own neighborhood differently now.

Sheila, 21

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VICE: Hi, Sheila. Where were you on Monday when you heard about the shooting?
Sheila: I was in bed when I read the news. When I heard that it was just around the corner from here, I was immediately reminded of the attack in Brussels three years ago. I'm from Antwerp, Belgium, myself, and it felt somewhat similar. Then the messages started flooding in that we had to stay indoors because there was a chance that another incident would occur. That's when I got scared. I live on the Amerikalaan, the street where the shooter stole a getaway car, and that made it all feel even closer by.

The motives of the shooter are still unclear, and there's been a lot of speculation about why this happened. How do you feel about that?
I always wonder what goes on in someone's head when something like this happens. But I don’t think it's a terror attack; it seems more like he had certain mental issues. I did find it very scary that this happened in a tram, and people were trapped in there. You don't do that unless it's premeditated.

Has your opinion of the neighborhood changed?
Before I moved here, my friends did say that this isn't a great neighborhood. But I haven't really noticed that in the time I've lived here. I don't think it's down to the neighborhood. And I still take the tram—we shouldn't let them scare us.

Nilo, 19

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Hi, Nilo. What did you hear about what happened?
Nilo: On Instagram, I read that it could be related to something personal—something to do with a relationship, which made me doubt it was really a terror attack. But I'm still not sure. There's a lot of different things being said. Because there are multiple victims, I do think it's a terrorist attack.

Does it bother you that so much is unclear?
Yes, you don't know if there are other attackers still at large. If it was really terrorists, you also don't know where and when the next attack will occur.

Does that scare you?
It doesn't scare me, but it's just not a safe feeling. I still go to school as usual and take the tram. You can't avoid those type of places.

Inge, 20

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VICE: Hi Inge—where were you yesterday when the shooting happened?
Inge: At home—I live near the square. And I didn't feel like going out, so I stayed inside.

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the motives of the shooter. Does that uncertainty bother you?
No, not really. I understand that they don't immediately know. I was glad when he was arrested yesterday. That did bring some peace.

Do you look at this neighborhood differently now?
Not really. There have been shootings before. This one has been all over the news, but it's not like this kind of thing never happens here.

Why do you think this incident got so much more attention in the news?
I guess because this time they thought it was a terrorist attack. But I don't think that what happened in New Zealand had anything to do with all the media attention.

Michael, 29

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VICE: Hi Michael. Where were you when it happened?
Michael: I happened to cycle past just after it'd happened, and there was a lot of panic. A lot of people were standing around the tram, so at first, I thought someone had become unwell. When police started popping up everywhere, I realized it was bad.

And then?
I turned on the livestream at home. But I also don't want to pay too much attention to it. People have died, and I think that's a lot more important than talking about what happened exactly. Though I am very glad that he was arrested.

Does it bother you that the motive is unclear?
Not really. As long as we're not in danger anymore, I don't want to worry about that.

Has your perception of this neighborhood changed?
No, I still feel just as safe as before. I've lived here for more than two years and nothing like this has ever happened.

Hilde, 32

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VICE: Hi Hilde, where were you when it happened?
Hilde: I was at home, close to the square where the shooting took place. I wanted to go out, but a friend told me not to. There were police everywhere and a helicopter was circling our neighborhood, so I decided to stay in.

Were you scared?
Yes, at first, but when I heard on the news that it likely wasn't a terrorist attack I felt relieved—also because I live pretty close by.

It is still unclear what his motives where. Does that bother you?
Yes. I don’t fully believe what they show on TV or write in the papers anyway. So it does bother me that I can't be sure what happened exactly. It could have been an honor killing, but also part of a bigger operation.

Do you still feel safe in this area?
Yes, I still feel safe here. I do believe the Netherlands is safe. This type of thing only happens once in a blue moon.

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