Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has denounced a “brutal act of violence” after a shooting that reportedly left at least seven people dead and dozens injured at a Jehovah’s Witness centre in Hamburg on Thursday night. The police said the gunman was believed to be dead and that the motive remained unclear.
Scholz said his thoughts were with the victims, while the Jehovah’s Witnesses community in Germany said its members had been targeted in a “horrific attack”.
The Bild newspaper reported that seven people were dead and 25 others injured, of which eight were seriously wounded. It is unclear if the attacker was included in the death toll. Police said that several people were seriously injured but declined to say how many had died, Reuters reported.
Soon after the attack, which began at around 9pm on Thursday, a police spokesperson said “We have no indications of a perpetrator on the run.” Later, police said that they had found a “lifeless person … who we believe could be a perpetrator” at the centre but that investigations were ongoing.
As news of the shooting emerged, Hamburg police said that a major operation was underway in the GrossBorstel district of the city. Several streets were sealed off and the public warned by text message to avoid the area. Local residents were told to stay indoors and only to use their phones “in extreme emergency” so as not to overburden the network.
“According to initial findings, shots were fired in a church on Deelbögestrasse in the GrossBorstel district,” police said. “Several people were seriously injured, some fatally. We are on site with a large contingent of officers.”
Police from a specialised armed unit were by chance already near the scene when the shooting happened, local media reported. They happened to be on their way back to accommodation at their headquarters in Alsterdorf when they heard gunshots.
NDR reporter Heiko Sander told Tagesschau that the police nearby acted after hearing several shots being fired. They entered the building and started evacuating people, including a woman who was pregnant, Sander said.
When officers arrived at the scene they found several people seriously injured and some dead. “Then they heard a shot from above, they went upstairs and found one further person,” a police spokesperson said.
An unnamed witness said he had heard shots being fired. “There were 12 continuous shots … then we saw how people were taken away in black bags,” he told local media.
A 23-year-old witness named Lara Bauch said she heard “about four firing periods. During these periods, several shots were always fired, approximately 20 seconds to one minute apart”.
She looked out of the window, “and saw a person running hectically from the ground floor to the first floor at the Jehovah’s Witnesses.”
She said that the services at the centre have “always been very well attended” and that the crowd was a mix of “families, older people, younger people”.
Some 175,000 people in Germany are Jehovah’s Witnesses, including 3,800 in Hamburg. The Christian movement set up in the US in the late 19th century preaches non-violence and is known for door-to-door evangelism.
The mayor of Hamburg, Peter Tschentscher, said: “I extend my deepest sympathy to the families of the victims. Police are working at full speed to pursue the perpetrators and clarify the background.”
Germany has been rocked by several mass shootings in recent years. In February 2020 a far-right extremist shot dead 10 people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau. And in 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur.