serbian shooting claims 8 lives day after school massacre killed 9

A day after Serbia’s first mass shooting in seven years, a second one left the small country in shock and its president called for a radical reduction in gun ownership.

DUBONA, Serbia — The killer seemed to mark people for death at random. He drove to a halt at a soccer field near a Serbian farming village, where young people were enjoying drinks and music, opened fire with an assault rifle, and sped off. He fired on another group outside a schoolyard.

Just one day after a 13-year-old shot to death nine people at his school in the capital, Belgrade, eight more victims lay dead or dying Thursday night, with at least 14 others newly wounded. Already deeply shaken, Serbia once again had to confront the unthinkable. This small Balkan nation, which had not had a mass shooting in seven years, had suffered two of them in as many days.

Early Friday, after an overnight manhunt involving hundreds of officers, with helicopters swarming overhead, the police captured a man who officials said was the gunman, a 21-year-old wearing a white supremacist symbol. Neither the officials nor the people of the area could offer a coherent motive for the massacre.

President Aleksandar Vucic vowed sweeping changes to Serbia’s gun laws, saying he was aiming for the “almost complete disarmament” of the country, something rarely attempted — and a sharp contrast to the United States, where mass shootings have mostly been followed by official inaction. At a news conference on Friday he said, “We’ve been walking around like zombies the last 24 hours, looking for a reason something like this could happen.”

Serbia is already a remarkable outlier. It has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, partly a legacy of the Balkan wars of the 1990s that left deep physical and mental scars, and yet it does not have a high rate of gun violence.

Forensic investigators on Friday at one of the shooting scenes outside of the village of Dubona, Serbia.Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

When he was caught, the suspected killer, a local man whose name was not released, wore a T-shirt that said “Generation 88,” Mr. Vucic said, adding that it referenced a white supremacist code for “Heil Hitler.” It was not clear if the shooter had connections to any white supremacist groups, and people who knew him in his village said they were unaware of any such affiliation.

Mr. Vucic said that when the suspect was asked the reason for his rampage, he gave a cryptic, one-word answer: “disrespect.”

The shootings took place in a sparsely populated region, about 20 miles southeast of Belgrade, where vineyards line the hillsides.

On the outskirts of the village of Malo Orasje, the gunman shot to death five people and wounded six, the police said in a statement. In the adjacent village of Dubona, they said, he killed three and wounded eight. Witnesses said the weapon appeared to be an automatic rifle.

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0506 for webSERBIA SECOND SHOOTINGmap 335

100 mileS













Adriatic Sea

By The New York Times

Then the gunman commandeered a taxi and forced the driver to take him to Vinjiste, a village about 40 miles to the south, where he was arrested, the police said.

Nikola Mitrovic, one of those wounded in Malo Orasje, said he was hanging out with 10 friends on a small soccer field, drinking and listening to music, when the gunman pulled up in a black Mercedes car around 10:30 p.m.

“We thought that somebody was making a joke on us,” Mr. Mitrovic, 17, said by telephone from the hospital where he was being treated. “He started yelling ‘Get on the ground!’”

“He fired in bursts and whoever he hit, he hit,” Mr. Mitrovic said. He said he managed to escape after the gunman emptied one magazine, before he loaded another and resumed shooting.

Zlatko Vujic, a Dubona resident, said his 25-year-old nephew was among those shot dead by the gunman.Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

Zlatko Vujic said his 25-year-old nephew was among those shot dead in Dubona. Mr. Vujic said the suspect, whom he knew, was the son of a veteran of the 1990s wars and had been working at a nearby fruit farm. The gunman “was just a kid,” Mr. Vujic said, his voice quavering.

Javorka Pavlovic, a resident of Dubona, said she heard gunshots late in the night but thought they were fireworks. “It’s a shock,” she said, standing near a shooting site where blood stained the pavement.

President Vucic said the suspect’s father is a deputy colonel in the Serbian Army. Police surrounded and searched the family home in the hamlet of Donja Dubona, just outside Dubona.

Searches of the house in Vinjiste where the suspect was found, and a cottage he used in the village of Sepsin, near Dubona, yielded several weapons, the police said, including an automatic rifle without a factory number, a carbine with optics, a pistol and four hand grenades. They did not say if the rifle was the one used in the killings.

Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

Stefan Markovic, 29, a resident of Donja Dubona who said he had known the suspect since they were children, said the accused gunman’s father had kept numerous weapons in the house. He described a family wedding he attended a few years ago, in which the suspect’s father and other family members shot rifles into the air to celebrate.

Many Serbs stockpiled weapons left over from the wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, conflicts marked by a string of atrocities. Mr. Vucic began his political career in that era as a far-right nationalist. He is seen as having moderated somewhat since then, but his leadership is often described as illiberal and even autocratic.

Though Serbia’s presidency is largely ceremonial, Mr. Vucic is the undisputed leader of the governing party. It is not clear how hard he will push his audacious gun control ideas, or which will be adopted, but the government has a history of acting on his wishes.

Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

He proposed a series of measures after the school shooting, some of which the government said it would enact immediately, including a two-year moratorium on new gun licenses and enhanced surveillance of shooting ranges.

On Wednesday, a seventh-grade student in Belgrade, armed with two pistols and having prepared Molotov cocktails, fatally ​shot eight other children and a security guard at his school, and wounded six students and a teacher, the police said. It was the first mass shooting in Serbia since 2016.

Prosecutors said on Friday that they had charged his father with a “serious offense against general security” for training his son to use firearms, and with violation of a law requiring that guns be kept locked up. The boy cannot be held criminally responsible because of his age, they said, but is being held for observation in a psychiatric institution.

“It’s a shock,” said Javorka Pavlovic, right, a resident of Dubona. She said she heard gunshots late in the night but thought that they were fireworks.Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

On Friday, after the second mass shooting, Mr. Vucic announced a stricter gun control agenda. To own a gun legally, he said, a person would have to pass a full audit, including psychological and drug screening. Of the roughly 400,000 legal, registered guns in Serbia, excluding hunting weapons, he said he expected just 10 percent, at most, to remain in private hands.

People who own guns illegally would be given a month to surrender them, he said. He promised increased prison terms, up to 15 years, fines for having unregistered firearms, and a police officer in every school.

Serbia ranks third in the world, tied with neighboring Montenegro, in civilian firearm ownership, after the United States and Yemen, according to a 2018 report by the Small Arms Survey, a group based in Geneva. Serbia has about 39 privately held guns per 100 people, the group said, about one-third the rate in the United States, but double the figure for Germany and France. Many European countries have fewer than 10 per 100 people.

Forensic investigators search for evidence near the village of Dubona.Vladimir Zivojinovic for The New York Times

But the rate of gun violence and overall homicide in Serbia is fairly typical of Europe, and far lower than in the United States, international studies show. From 2015 through 2019, 125 people were killed in firearm-related homicides in Serbia, a country of about seven million people, according to a Flemish Peace Institute report.

Serbia has enacted stringent regulations on firearms since guns became widely available during the 1990s wars. Gun owners must have no history of imprisonment and have no criminal record in the past four years, be trained in handling firearms, undergo routine medical examinations, and have a safe storage space.

On Friday, the Interior Ministry urged gun owners to ensure that their weapons were locked away, unloaded and separated from ammunition. The ministry said it would go through the registry of gun owners to check that arms were properly stored, and seize weapons or take other actions against owners if they were not.

Constant Méheut reported from Dubona, Serbia; John Yoon from Seoul; Joe Orovic from Zadar, Croatia; and Jenny Gross from London. Victoria Kim and Matej Leskovsek contributed reporting from Seoul.

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