A shooting at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in the German city of Hamburg left several people dead, apparently including the shooter, police said Friday. An unspecified number of other people were wounded, some of them seriously, police said.
Police were giving reporters different accounts. CBS News was told earlier that eight people were killed, including the shooter. They added that the shooter was inside the building the entire time and there was no manhunt at any point. When officers arrived, the shooter had already died by suicide.
Police said on their website that a “corresponding warning for the area from March 9th, 2023 has now been lifted.”
There was still no word on a possible motive for the shooting that stunned Germany’s second-biggest city.
But the German magazine Der Spiegel reported that the suspect “is said to have been a former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses … between 30 and 40 years old. … It is unclear whether he legally owned the murder weapon, a pistol.”
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, described the shooting as “a brutal act of violence.”
Police said during the night that they believe that there was only one shooter, and that that this could be a person who was found dead in the building.
Investigators worked through the night to secure evidence. On Friday morning, forensic investigators in protective white suits could still be seen outside the building as a light snow fell. Officers placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.
Hamburg officials said there would be a news conference Friday afternoon to discuss details.
David Semonian, a U.S.-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement early Friday that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event.”
“The congregation elders in the local area are providing pastoral care for those affected by the event,” he wrote. “We understand that the authorities are still investigating the details of this crime. We appreciate the courageous help provided by the police and emergency services.”
Agence France-Presse reported that the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany association said it was “deeply saddened by the horrific attack on its members” after a religious service.
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher tweeted that the news was “shocking” and offered his sympathy to the victims’ relatives.
The scene of the shooting was the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ Kingdom Hall, a modern and boxy three-story building next to an auto repair shop.
Police spokesman Holger Vehren said police were alerted to the shooting about 9:15 p.m. and were on the scene quickly.
He said that after officers arrived and found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, they heard a shot from an upper floor and found a fatally wounded person upstairs who may have been a shooter. He said police did not have to use their firearms.
Vehren said there was no indication that a shooter was on the run and that it appeared likely that the perpetrator was either in the building or among the dead.
Through the night, forensic investigators in protective white suits could be seen walking through the building continuing their work.
Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said “there were about four periods of shooting,” German news agency dpa reported. “There were always several shots in these periods, roughly at intervals of 20 seconds to a minute,” she said.
She said she looked out her window and saw a person running from the ground floor to the second floor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall.
Gregor Miesbach, who lives within sight of the building, was alerted by the sound of shots and filmed a figure entering the building through a window. Shots can then be heard from inside. The figure later apparently emerges from the hall, is seen in the courtyard and then fires more shots inside.
Miesbach told German television news agency NonstopNews that he heard at least 25 shots. After police arrived, one last shot followed about five minutes later, he said.
His video, posted online by Bild newspaper, showed a person firing multiple shots into the building through a first floor window before the lights inside the room went out.
Early Friday morning, investigators could be seen working outside the building as a light snow fell, placing yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.
Jehovah’s Witnesses are part of an international church, founded in the United States in the 19th century and headquartered in Warwick, New York. It claims a worldwide membership of about 8.7 million, with about 170,000 in Germany.
Members are known for their evangelistic efforts that include knocking on doors and distributing literature in public squares. The denomination’s distinctive practices include a refusal to bear arms, receive blood transfusions, salute a national flag or participate in secular government.