German Gunman Kills 6 at Hamburg Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall

German Gunman Kills 6 at Hamburg Jehovah’s Witnesses Hall
Armed police officers near the scene of a shooting in Hamburg, Germany, on March 9, 2023. (Jonas Walzberg/dpa via AP)

HAMBURG, Germany—A gunman stormed a service at his former Jehovah’s Witnesses congregation in Hamburg, killing six people before taking his own life after police arrived, authorities in the German port city said Friday.

Police gave no motive for Thursday night’s attack. But they acknowledged recently receiving an anonymous tip that claimed the man identified as the shooter showed anger toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and might be psychologically unfit to own a gun.

Eight people were wounded, including a woman who was 28 weeks pregnant and lost the baby. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the death toll could rise.

Officers apparently reached the hall, a boxy building next to an auto repair shop a few kilometers (miles) from downtown, while the attack was ongoing—and heard one more shot after they arrived, according to witnesses and authorities. They did not fire their weapons, but officials said their intervention likely prevented further loss of life.

Scholz, a former Hamburg mayor, lamented the “terrible incident in my home city.”

“We are speechless in view of this violence,” Scholz said at an event in Munich. “We are mourning those whose lives were taken so brutally.”

All of the victims were German citizens apart from two wounded women, one with Ugandan citizenship, and one with Ukrainian.

Officials said the suspected gunman was a 35-year-old German national identified only as Philipp F., in line with the country’s privacy rules. Police said he had left the congregation “voluntarily, but apparently not on good terms,” about a year and a half ago.

Hamburg police chief Ralf Martin Meyer said the man was visited by police after they received an anonymous tip in January, claiming he “bore particular anger toward religious believers, in particular toward Jehovah’s Witnesses and his former employer.”

Officers said the man was cooperative and found no grounds to take away his weapon, according to Meyer.

“The bottom line is that an anonymous tip in which someone says they’re worried a person might have a psychological illness, isn’t in itself a basis for [such] measures,” he said.

On Friday morning, forensic investigators in protective white suits could be seen outside the Jehovah’s Witnesses Kingdom Hall. As a light snow fell, officers placed yellow cones on the ground and windowsills to mark evidence.

Hamburg’s top security official said a special operations unit that happened to be near the hall arrived just minutes after receiving the first emergency call at 9:04 p.m. The officers were able to separate the gunman from the congregation.

“We can assume that they saved many people’s lives this way,” Hamburg state Interior Minister Andy Grote told reporters.

Upon arrival, officers found people with apparent gunshot wounds on the ground floor, and then heard a shot from an upper floor, where they found a fatally wounded person believed to be the shooter, according to police spokesman Holger Vehren. They did not fire their weapons.

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.

David Semonian, a U.S.-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, said 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.

By Friday afternoon, the bodies of the victims had been removed from the hall, and residents laid flowers outside to commemorate the victims.

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