The assailant had two pistols, four Molotov cocktails and detailed plans, the police said. A security guard was also killed.
A seventh-grade student armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails shot and killed eight children and a security guard on Wednesday in an attack against his school in the Serbian capital, Belgrade, shocking a country where gun ownership is high but violence from the weapons is rare.
The shooting took place around 8:40 a.m. at Vladislav Ribnikar primary school, in Vracar, an upscale neighborhood, Chief Veselin Milic of the Belgrade police, said at a news conference. The student fatally shot seven girls and one boy using two handguns, which he took from his father. He also carried four self-made Molotov cocktails, Chief Milic said.
Six children and a teacher were also injured in the attack. One of the children, a 13-year-old, was described as having “life-threatening injuries,” officials said.
“Today is one of the most difficult days in the modern history of our country,” President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia said in a speech on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, Serbia is united in grief.”
Saying the shooter “showed no remorse,” Mr. Vucic confirmed that he had been arrested and taken to a mental health clinic. He would not be held criminally responsible for the killings because is under the age of 14, according to a statement from Belgrade’s Higher Public Prosecutor’s Office, though Mr. Vucic said he would propose changes in the age of criminal liability.
The boy’s parents had also been arrested, the president said.
A vigil took place Wednesday night in Belgrade’s Flower Square, a block away from the school. Among those killed was a French girl, according to France’s Foreign Ministry, which said in a statement that it was working to “provide all their support to the family.”
The authorities were alerted when they received a call from the school’s vice principal who said a child had “entered the school with a firearm and was shooting randomly,” the police chief said.
Police officials said the student began shooting immediately upon entering the building, killing the security guard and others before making his way down a corridor toward a history classroom, which he had targeted because it was near the entrance.
He shot into the classroom before fleeing to the school’s yard, where he called the authorities to report himself, said Chief Milic in a televised interview with state media. He added that the suspect called himself a “psychopath” who needed to be calmed down. He was apprehended shortly after.
The security guard was killed while trying to stop the attack, according to the district’s mayor, Milan Nedeljkovic.
In his remarks on Wednesday, Mr. Vucic said that tragedies like the school shooting in Belgrade were happening “every week in other countries.” He promised to introduce a series of measures designed to regulate guns and curb the likelihood of another attack.
The proposals included lowering the age of criminal liability to 12, from 14, and a setting a moratorium on the possession and carrying of weapons. He also said he intended to enforce a review process for all gun owner permits.
Who was hurt?
Serbia’s health minister, Danica Grujicic, said at the news conference that three students and a teacher had been admitted to the Clinical Center of Serbia after 9 a.m., and were being treated for gunshot wounds.
“This is my scariest experience as a doctor and a person,” Ms. Grujicic said, describing how one of the students, around 13 years old, had “life-threatening injuries” to his chest, neck and spine. The teacher, who was born in 1970, had also suffered injuries to her pelvis and both hands.
Three other students were being treated at a children’s hospital, Tirshova, where one student, still in “unstable condition,” was receiving surgery for a severe head injury, the health minister said.
Who is the shooter?
Chief Milic said at the news conference that teachers characterized the suspect as a “good student and good friend” who had not previously attracted attention. But President Vucic said later on Wednesday that the boy had asked his parents and teachers to transfer him to a different class, where he later felt alienated by his fellow classmates.
One student who spoke to state television claimed to have spent time with the shooter, and described him as “a quiet and polite person” who had been bullied by others.
The shooter’s preparations for the attack, which the authorities said spanned over one month, were detailed in a map he sketched and a list of targets, including students. “The sketch looks a bit like something from a game or a horror movie,” Chief Milic said. The student, who had demonstrated skilled use of the weapons, calmly recounted his crime to the authorities on Wednesday, Chief Milic said.
The boy obtained the weapons from his father, who later told the police that he had permits for both pistols, which he kept locked in a safe for which his son had apparently discovered the code, Bratislac Gasic, the minister of police said at the news conference. The student had reportedly accompanied his father to a shooting range, he added.
The shooting shattered the usual calm in the high-end enclave of Vracar, one mile from downtown Belgrade, where the school of about 1,100 students is nestled among rows of stately houses and leafy streets.
Sirens and flashing lights from ambulances and police cars broke through the hushed spring morning, forcing from their homes residents who were desperate for news or assurances that their children were not among the victims.
“It was terrible. I was downstairs. I heard the gunshots. They were continuous,” said one student, who was visibly shaken, in an interview with state television. “I had no idea what was happening,” she said.
Three official days of mourning will begin May 7.
How common is gun violence in Serbia?
Serbia has traditionally had a high level of gun ownership compared with other countries because of its recent history of armed conflict, and a cultural and historical tradition of owning guns, but it does not have high levels of gun violence, according to an October 2022 report by the Flemish Peace Institute, an independent research group.
Most gun owners in Serbia are men, 94.7 percent, and they are often middle-aged and older, the report said.
From 2015 through 2019, 125 people were killed in firearm-related homicides in Serbia, according to the report. In that period, five people between the ages of 14 and 17 committed gun homicides in Serbia, according to the institute’s report, and one person under the age of 18 was killed in a gun homicide.
But there have been several mass shootings in recent years: In 2016, a man killed five people at a cafe in northern Serbia. In 2015, a man killed four people after his son’s wedding, including his wife, his new daughter-in-law and her parents. In 2013, a 60-year-old veteran of the Balkan wars killed 13 people, including relatives and neighbors, in the village of Velika Ivanca near Belgrade. And, in July 2007, a 38-year-old man killed nine people who had been passing by on a street in the village of Jabukovac in eastern Serbia.
Alisa Dogramadzieva, Amanda Holpuch and Joe Orovic contributed reporting.