BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A teenager opened fire at his school in Serbia’s capital Wednesday, killing eight children and a school guard before being arrested in the school yard, police said. Six more children and a teacher were hospitalized.
A father of a student at the school in central Belgrade said the shooter entered his daughter’s classroom, firing at her teacher and then her classmates as they ducked under their desks. Most students were able to flee through a back door, according to a local official.
Police said the shooter, whom they identified by his initials, K.K., was a student at the Vladislav Ribnikar school and was born in 2009. They said he used his father’s gun.
Local media footage showed a commotion as police removed the suspect, whose head was covered as officers led him to a car. Police sealed off the blocks around Vladislav Ribnikar, which is what’s known as a primary school, whose students would typically range in age from 6 to 15. Authorities later carried body bags to a waiting van.
Mass shootings are extremely rare in Serbia and in the wider Balkan region; none were reported at schools in recent years. In the last mass shooting, a Balkan war veteran in 2013 killed 13 people in a central Serbian village.
Experts, however, have repeatedly warned of the danger posed by the large number of weapons in the country after the wars of the 1990s. They also note that decades of instability stemming from the conflicts as well as the ongoing economic hardship could trigger such outbursts.
Police said they received a call about the shooting at around 8:40 a.m. on the first day that classes resumed after a long weekend for the May 1 holiday.
“I was able to hear the shooting. It was nonstop,” said a student who was in a sports class when gunfire erupted elsewhere in the building. Her mother asked that her name be withheld because of her age. “I didn’t know what was happening. We were receiving some messages on the phone.”
The student described the suspect as a “quiet guy” who had good grades.
“He was not so open with everybody. Surely I wasn’t expecting this to happen,” she said.
Milan Nedeljkovic, the mayor of the Belgrade area of Vracar where the shooting happened, said that most of the students were taken out a back door of the school.
“We have video surveillance, but now this is a lesson, we need metal detectors too,” he said. “It is a huge tragedy … something like this (happening) in Belgrade. Such a tragedy at an elementary school.”
Four students and a teacher were sent to University hospital, according to the hospital’s director, who said one child and the teacher were in serious condition.
Milan Milosevic, who said his daughter was in a history class when the shooting took place, told N1 television that he rushed to the school when he heard what had happened. He received a call from his daughter who had gotten out of the building and was unharmed.
“He (the shooter) fired first at the teacher and then the children who ducked under the desks,” Milosevic said his daughter told him.