MESCHEDE, Calle, Germany – It’s something most students would never think about. It’s what teachers hope will never happen. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.
Last week, 17-year-old Tim Kretschmer entered his former school in the small Southern German town of Winnenden and gunned down 12 people before killing three more on his flight and finally taking his own life.
On Wednesday, March 11, Germany was, and Germany still is, in shock.
Just like seven years ago, when an expelled student went on a killing spree in the East German town of Erfurt, the questions are coming from everywhere and they are coming fast. Why? How? What could have been done to prevent this? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?
The sad fact is that there are but few answers. Although the topic is omnipresent in the media with newspapers, television, internet and radio running constant coverage, and experts continuously commenting on the rampage, no one seems to know what to do at German schools.
The main problem is that no one saw this coming.
Kretschmer was an inconspicuous youth, described as being quiet and nice. News reports said he frequently played violent computer games. His father is a gun club member, according to newspaper reports and is in the possession of a number of guns, one of which he kept in his bedroom. This gun reportedly became the murder weapon.
But the solution can’t be to forbid the legal possession of guns. Germany’s gun legislation is comparatively strict. And since most such rampages are planned, the youth would most likely have found some other way of acquiring a gun.
The school Kretschmer attended seems to have been a model school. The Albertville-Realschule was renowned – it had high standards, good connections to the community and its own social worker, which most German schools do not have.
Could metal detectors or a security guard have prevented this massacre? The answer cannot be to turn German schools into fortresses. This could create an atmosphere of panic and constant suspicion.
And it’s not what German students want.
The German government is holding back on demands to change German legislation. The common consent is that there is nothing that can be done legally about rampages like in Winnenden.
Teachers have been criticizing the small number of school psychologists in Germany but even if their numbers were increased, the question would be how much they could actually do.
Too often, school psychologists have to deal with too many students and consequently have a hard time recognizing a murderer. Sometimes, they can’t stop someone from running amok because – as it was the case in Winnenden and Erfurt – the student doesn’t even attend the school anymore.
The sad reality is that little can actually be done. German society’s philosophy is for its children to deal with personal problems themselves more so than it seems to be in the cultures of Southern European countries, where emotions are dealt with and shown more openly.
A solution might be for everyone to pay more attention. To listen when someone has problems, to see when someone has troubles, to be nice even to the outsiders that may seem different at first but after all are just human and want to be accepted and respected just like everyone else.
Too soon, the events of Winnenden will start to be forgotten by all those who are not directly affected.
The shock will subside and the fear might disappear, but the threat will remain real. The next shooting will come. It could be in Germany, it could be in Europe, it could be in America, it could be anywhere in the world.
The only thing we can hope for is a bit more kindness, a nice word, a friendly smile, an honest compliment.
Maybe it’s the little things that can go a long way to preventing similar tragedies from happening. At least, it is something to hope for.
Katie Grosser is a Senior Reporter for Youth Journalism International.