Serbia has its second mass shooting in as many days
A gunman killed at least eight people and wounded 13 in a shootout from a passing car late Thursday night in a town near Belgradereported state television.
The attacker used an automatic weapon to shoot indiscriminately at people near the town of Mladenovac, some 50 kilometers south of the capital, the RTS report said early Friday. Police are searching for the 21-year-old suspect, who fled after the attack, the report said.
Serbian Interior Minister Bratislav Gasic called the shooting “an act of terrorism,” the report said.
Special police and helicopter units, as well as ambulances, have been deployed to the region, he added. Further details were not immediately available and no statements had been made by the police.
On Wednesday in Belgrade, a 13-year-old boy used his father’s guns in a school shooting that killed eight of his classmates and a school guard. The bloodshed sent shockwaves through a Balkan nation unaccustomed to such mass killings.
Dozens of Serbian students, many in black and holding flowers, silently paid homage to their peers killed a day earlier on Thursday.
Students filled the streets around the school in central Belgrade as they poured in from across the city. Thousands had previously lined up to lay flowers, light candles and leave toys to commemorate the eight children and a school guard who were killed Wednesday morning.
People cried and hugged in front of the school as they stood in front of piles of flowers, little teddy bears and soccer balls. A gray and pink toy elephant was placed on the school fence along with messages of sympathy, and a girl’s ballet slippers hung on the fence.
The Balkan nation is struggling to come to terms with what happened. Although there are many weapons from the 1990s wars, mass shootings are still extremely rare – and this is the first school shooting in Serbia’s recent history.
The tragedy also sparked debate about the nation’s general state after decades of crises and conflicts, the aftermath of which have created a state of permanent insecurity and instability, as well as deep political divisions.
Authorities scramble to step up gun control on Thursday, as police urged citizens to lock up their guns and keep them away from children.
Police said the teenager used his father’s guns to carry out the attack. He planned it for a month, drawing sketches of classrooms and making lists of the children he wanted to kill, police said on Wednesday.
The boy, who had been visiting shooting ranges with his father and apparently had the code to his father’s safe, took two guns from the safe where they were kept along with the bullets, police said on Wednesday.
“The Home Office appeals to all gun owners to store their guns carefully and lock them in safes or cupboards out of the reach of others, especially children,” police said in a statement, which also announced tightened checks on gun owners in the future .
Seven people were also hospitalized in Wednesday morning’s shooting at the Vladislav Ribnikar elementary school – six children and a teacher. A girl who was shot in the head remains in critical condition and a boy is in serious condition with spinal injuries, doctors said Thursday morning.
To help people deal with the tragedy, authorities announced they would set up a hotline. Hundreds responded to a call to donate blood for the wounded. A three-day mourning period begins on Friday morning.
Serbian teachers’ unions announced protests and strikes to demand changes and to warn of a crisis in the school system. Authorities denied responsibility, with some officials blaming Western influence rather than a deep social crisis in the country.
The shooter, who police identified as Kosta Kecmanovic, has not given a motive for his crime.
Upon entering his school, Kecmanovic first killed the guard and three students in the hallway. He then went to the history classroom where he shot the teacher before pointing his gun at the students.
Kecmanovic then unloaded the gun in the schoolyard and called the police himself, although they had already received an alert from a school official. When he called, Kecmanovic told officers on duty he was a “psychopath who needs to calm down,” police said.
Those killed were seven girls, one boy and the school security guard. One of the girls is a French citizen, the French Foreign Ministry said.
Authorities have said Kecmanovic is too young to be charged and brought to justice. He was placed in a mental institution while his father was detained on suspicion of endangering public safety over his son’s involvement in gunfire.
“I think we’re all guilty. I think each of us has some responsibility for allowing some things that we shouldn’t allow,” said Zoran Sefik, a resident of Belgrade, during Wednesday night’s vigil near the school.
Jovan Lazovic, another Belgrade resident, said he wasn’t surprised: “It was a matter of days when something like this could happen, considering what’s happening in the world and here,” he said.
Gun culture is widespread in Serbia and elsewhere in the Balkans: the region ranks among the best in Europe for the number of guns per capita. Rifles are often shot in the air at celebrations, and the cult of the warrior is part of national identity. However, the last mass shooting took place in 2013, when a war veteran killed 13 people in a central Serbian village.
Experts have consistently warned of the danger posed by the abundance of guns in a deeply divided country like Serbia, where convicted war criminals are glorified and violence against minorities often goes unpunished. They also note that decades of instability stemming from the conflicts of the 1990s, as well as ongoing economic difficulties, could trigger such outbreaks.
“We’ve had too much violence for too long,” psychologist Zarko Trebjesanin told N1. “Children copy models. We need to eliminate negative models… and create a different value system.”