Germany mourns nine killed in mass shooting

Devastated: ‘Munich always seemed such a safe place,’ said a local resident. © PA

The deaths of nine people in Munich last Friday are ‘difficult to bear’ says Angela Merkel. Their killer appears to have been a ‘withdrawn’ teenager who was ‘obsessed’ with mass shootings.

At first, Faruk Sazil thought a balloon had exploded. He was minding his fruit stall just 30m from a McDonald’s opposite Munich’s Olympia shopping centre on Friday evening. But when the first shot was followed by five or six more the truth became terrifyingly clear: someone had a gun.

Munich went into lockdown as around 2,000 police officers tried to locate the killer, who murdered nine people and injured at least 21 more. But later that night, they confirmed that the 18-year-old had turned the gun on himself. He was dead.

Of the nine victims, seven were just teenagers. After so much terror in Europe, Germany is mourning their loss ‘with a heavy heart,’ said the chancellor Angela Merkel.

At first there were fears that this attack was also terror-related. But now the authorities say it is clear that the gunman, Ali David Sonboly, acted alone for reasons of his own.

The shopping centre is surrounded by tributes from the citizens of Munich. Among them, the same word is repeated over and over: ‘Warum?’ Why? Was he seeking revenge against bullies? Did his shouts of ‘I am German’ betray a far-right ideology?

Or was he inspired by other mass shootings? In his bedroom, police found a German translation of the book Why Kids Kill by psychologist Peter Langman. And the attack was carried out on July 22nd, exactly five years after Anders Breivik killed 77 people in Norway. ‘It’s a little disturbing,’ Langman said when he heard that the killer had sought out his book. But ‘it’s common for shooters to want to study other shooters.’

Gun crime is more common in the USA than in Europe. And the FBI has said that with mass shootings, ‘the copycat phenomenon is real.’ The Columbine school shooting alone has inspired at least 74 cases since 1999. That is why the FBI has backed the ‘Don’t Name Them‘ campaign which encourages journalists to shift their focus away from the killer.

Notoriety report

When something like this happens, the killer’s face often appears on televisions and front pages around the world. But this is irresponsible, says the campaign. It bestows the infamy they craved, and it could inspire others to follow in their footsteps. Instead of writing about the shooter, journalists should focus on the victims whose lives were tragically cut short.

But many journalists argue that they have a duty to report all sides of a story. For one thing, discussing the shooter’s motivations will prevent rumours from spreading — such as the false reports that the killer was linked to Islamic State. For another, we need all the right information in order to answer the most crucial questions of all: could this have been prevented? And how do we stop it from happening again?

You Decide

  1. Are the media guilty of ‘glorifying’ mass killers?
  2. How important is it to understand the motivations behind an attack?

Activities

  1. The people of Munich have reacted with defiance. ‘You can’t just shut yourself in because something like this happens,’ said a retired policeman. Produce an image which sends a message of support to the city.
  2. Read the six tips for reporting on mass shootings by Mother Jones (link under Become An Expert). Then create a newspaper front page about the Munich attacks which sticks to those guidelines.

Some People Say...

“There is no excuse for censoring the truth.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Will it really make a difference if the media don’t mention his name?
It’s difficult to say. It is possible that the ‘contagion effect’ of mass shootings depends more on the extent of media coverage. After shootings in the USA which receive national coverage, researchers found that the likelihood of ‘copycat’ events increases in the next 13 days. Incidents which only receive local coverage are less likely to have this effect.
Is anyone following the guidelines?
Some, although few media outlets will avoid mentioning the killer all together. But the guidelines are being followed more often by local law enforcement. After a shooting in Oregon last year, the county sheriff told the media: ‘I don’t want to glorify the shooter... You won’t hear his name from me or this investigation.’

Word Watch

Olympia
The shopping centre is near Munich’s Olympic village. During the 1972 Games, 11 Israeli athletes were taken hostage and killed by a terrorist group called Black September.
Nine victims
It is possible that the gunman knew some of his victims, as he frequented the McDonald’s where his attack began. It is believed that he hacked a Facebook account to lure people to the restaurant.
Why Kids Kill
So why do kids kill? ‘There’s no one reason,’ Langman says. ‘Sometimes there’s a revenge factor. Sometimes they are full of rage and lashing out against the world. Sometimes they are wanting to make a name for themselves.’
July 22nd
Far-right terrorist Anders Breivik targeted the government and a left-wing political summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya.
More common
UN data shows the US has four times as many gun homicides per head as Turkey and Switzerland, the two countries tied for third place. (Chile comes second.)
74 copycat cases
Of these, 53 were prevented by law enforcement; in the rest, 89 people died.
Don’t Name Them
The campaign was founded by Texas State University.

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