World News

02.04.14

An American-Style School Shooting in Moscow

A school shooting in north Moscow had politicians quickly blaming American culture as a corrupting influence on Russian youth.

Shortly before noon yesterday, a disturbed young man forced his way into his local high school at rifle point, intent upon finding a teacher who supposedly had refused to give him a high grade. He forced his way past the security guard at the front door, but not before the unarmed guard was able to sound an alarm alerting the police. He found his teacher, a well-liked geography instructor, in class with around 20 students. He walked up to his teacher and shot him in the chest, and, according to some reports, shot his the man again in the head to make sure he was dead. While holding the remaining students hostage, he shot two responding police officers, killing one and wounding the other. Luckily, no other students or faculty were harmed.

Unfortunately this story would not come as a shock to many in the U.S., which has been the scene of far too many school shootings. But this event took place at School No. 263, located a 10-minute walk from the Otradnoe metro stop in North Moscow.

First reports detail the shooter as Sergei Gordeyev, a young man around 15 years old, and reported to be a straight-A student. He was supposedly mad about his teacher Andrei Kirillov’s refusal to grant him a high grade, which could have imperiled his chances of acquiring a gold medal award given to high-performing students. Like many school shooting suspects, the boy was thought to be quiet and studious but could have suffered from what Investigative Committee Spokesman Vladimir Markin called “an emotional breakdown.”

The shooter had acquired two weapons, including one hunting rifle, from his father, who supposedly works for the Federal Security Service (FSB)—the successor to the KGB and the organization that Putin used to head. The standoff was finally brought to an end when the father convinced his son to give up and surrender peacefully.

Putin lamented the lack of cultural education of Russia’s youth: “The new generation ... needs to be raised with good artistic taste and the ability to understand and value the theatrical, dramatic and musical arts.”

While Russia is no stranger to violence in general, especially with the continued insurgency in the North Caucasus, school violence is relatively rare. Russian schools were, however, the scene of one of the most heinous terrorist attacks in recent memory, in September of 2004, when 34 nationalist-Islamist insurgents took some 1,100 hostages at an elementary school on the first day of the school year in North Ossetia, a North Caucasus Republic. During the ensuing negotiations, a bomb was unexpectedly set off by the insurgents (possibly accidentally), and ultimately led to the death of 334 of the hostages—half of them children—along with 12 spetsnaz (belonging to the elite Vympel and Alpha groups) and police officers, and all but one of the hostage takers.

Yet beyond the terrorist attacks, Russia has been spared the school shooting and gun rampages that plague the United States. That is, until yesterday.

It didn’t take long for the accusations and political vitriol to start flowing. Alexei Pushkov, the chairman of Russia’s Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted, “Moscow school shooting: American movies and domestic serials, full of violence, are producing results—now it is like the USA here. Is this what we wanted?” This is the very same Pushkov that mocked “American Exceptionalism” in the wake of the U.S. Naval Yard shootings. Meanwhile, Putin took a slightly different tack, lamenting the lack of cultural education of Russia’s youth. “The new generation ... needs to be raised with good artistic taste and the ability to understand and value the theatrical, dramatic and musical arts,” he stated. “And if this was done as it should be in our country, maybe there would not be tragedies like the tragedy in Moscow today.”

While there were calls in the immediate aftermath for an increase in school security, as there were in the U.S. in the wake of such tragedies, what mechanisms were in place seemed to work relatively well. The school guard, while unarmed, was still able to alert the authorities. While the initial police response were regular patrol officers from the 1st battalion of the Extradepartmental Guard Department, of Moscow's Northeastern District, according to NYU Professor Mark Galeotti there also was a SOBR unit from Moscow police's Special Designation Centre (TsSN) that was available should the situation deteriorate (SOBR is a type of elite police commando unit). Along with the prompt response, the authorities were also able to negotiate quickly and effectively with the young man, luckily bringing the terrible event to an end.

The school shooting has understandably unnerved much of the country, especially coming on the heels of heightened terror alerts and the attacks in Volgograd. And while the shooting has only contributed to the paranoia and sense of unease in the country, the incident appears to simply be another terrible example of what can happen when emotionally and psychologically unstable people acquire firearms, regardless of country.