Copycat Hysteria Hits Germany
Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings
Crime | 08.12.2006
Großansicht des Bildes mit der Bildunterschrift: Some 3,700 police officers have been deployed in Baden-Württemberg's schools
Hysteria hit high schools across Germany this week as police struggle to deal with a wave of threatened copycat crimes triggered by a student's storming of his school in late November. Is the country overreacting?
Weeks after an armed 18-year-old attacked the Scholl secondary school in Emsdetten, wounding five people before killing himself, Germany is in the grip of a security scare.
The panic was unleashed Wednesday when Baden-Württemberg's education minister, Helmut Rau, sent the region's schools a chilling e-mail.
"An anonymous person has threatened a killing spree in his school in Baden-Württemberg on Dec. 6," it read. "The person has confirmed his intention is serious."
By Friday, some 4,800 local schools had been placed under police protection; many parents kept their children at home, and a spate of copycat threats had swept the country.
Schleswig-Holstein's interior minister, Social Democrat Ralf Stegner, announced that copycat callers would face stiff penalties. "Police and prosecutors will do everything in their power to investigate these people," he said. "Anyone who claims they intend to perpetrate violence is punishable."
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"The warning spread fear and uncertainty among the population and created a framework for copycat callers," said Ute Vogt, leader of Baden-Württemberg's opposition SPD.
Jürgen Giessler from the Offenburg police department predicted that the number of copycat incidents would continue to climb over the next few weeks and stressed the entailing financial burden.
"It could add up to a figure it will take a lifetime to pay off," he said.
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Inevitably, the threats have hit Germany's headlines. But many are wondering if the media interest does not in fact serve to spur on disaffected young people rather than to deter them.
"Some people use the media interest to draw attention to themselves," Federal Police Union President Wolfgang Speck told the daily Die Welt.
Micha Hilgers, a psychoanalyst based in Aachen, agreed. "The enormous public attention -- if not hysteria -- is nothing less than balm to the damaged souls of these potential spree killers," she said on radio station SWR2.
Youth violence expert Adolf Gallwitz pointed out in an interview with the daily tageszeitung that media revelations about characters such as the Emsdetten student also prompt young people to sympathize with them.
"The surfeit of intimate details encourages teenagers to identify with the culprit," he said. "They think: he was as old as me, he goes to the same sort of school I do -- all I need now is my grandfather's firearm."
To read the complete article, see: Germany Gripped by Epidemic of Threatened School Shootings
According to some online chatter, the "anonymous person" who sent the "killing spree" threat has been found, dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
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