A shooting Thursday night at a Jehovah’s Witnesses hall in the German city of Hamburg left seven dead, including a former member of the congregation identified as the shooter, police said Friday. Four men, a woman and an unborn child were killed. Police initially said on Friday that the woman carrying the child had also died in the attack, but later confirmed that she survived. Her 28-week-old baby died.
Police identified the gunman on Friday as unmarried former church member Phillip F., and said there was no indication of a terrorist motive.
Police had previously told CBS News that the shooter was inside the building the entire time and there was no manhunt at any time. When the officers arrived, the shooter was already dead by suicide.
Police gave no indication of a suspected motive as they briefed reporters on Friday morning about the shooting that shocked Germany’s second-largest city.
German magazine Der Spiegel previously reported that the suspect was “said to be a former member of Jehovah’s Witnesses … between 30 and 40 years old.”
Police confirmed on Friday that the gunman used a semi-automatic handgun that he was licensed to own. They said there was an anonymous letter sent to the police several years ago stating that the suspect was mentally unstable and had shown animosity towards religious followers, and that a review of his firearms license was being carried out.
They said that when questioned, Phillip F. was cooperative and gave no indication of mental health issues, so they closed the case. He was a sports shooter.
Mass shootings are rare in Europe, where gun ownership laws are generally much stricter than in many US states. There is a long and strict process in Germany to obtain a permit for a gun.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, a former mayor of Hamburg, described the shooting as “a brutal act of violence.”
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 light snow fell. Officers placed yellow cones on the ground and window sills to mark the evidence.
David Semonian, a US-based spokesman for Jehovah’s Witnesses, told The Associated Press in an emailed statement Friday morning that members “worldwide grieve for the victims of this traumatic event.” .
“The elders of the congregation 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.”
Hamburg mayor Peter Tschentscher tweeted that the news was “shocking” and offered his sympathies to the victims’ relatives.
The scene of the shooting was the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, a modern, boxy three-story building next to an auto repair shop.
Police spokesman Holger Vehren said police were alerted to the shooting around 9:15 p.m. and were on the scene quickly. As of Friday morning, police confirmed they had received nearly 50 emergency calls about the shooting.
Vehren 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 they suspected was a shooter. He said the police did not need to use their firearms.
Student Laura Bauch, who lives nearby, said “there were about four periods of gunfire,” German news agency dpa reported. “There were always several shots during these periods, approximately at intervals of 20 seconds to a minute,” he said.
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 around 8.7 million, with around 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.
CBS News’ Anna Noryskiewicz in Berlin contributed to this report.