PARIS — Europe is not immune to mass murder. It’s rare, but it happens, and when a deranged masked man erupted in a German cinema complex on Thursday afternoon, wearing an ammunition belt and firing a gun into the air, authorities feared the worst.
Would he try to emulate the prolonged, systematic slaughter in Orlando earlier this month, or at the Cineplex in Aurora, Colorado, in 2012? Initial reports in Germany talked of 50 people “injured” and a hostage scene.
Worse still, according to the recorded program at the Kinopolis complex in the town of Viernheim, which is about 20 minutes from a U.S. Army base in Heidelberg, half the movies playing there when the gunman burst in at about 3 p.m. were tailored for children, including The Jungle Book, Zootopia, and Alice Through the Looking Glass.
In the end, the only person who died appears to have been the shooter himself, described by German police as “a confused individual” with no evident terrorist connection. He had tried to hide, according to some reports. A special weapons and tactics police unit, the SEK, killed him to end the siege and free any potential hostages.
Still unclear is whether the choking gas that reportedly was released in the theater and affected several people there came from the police or the shooter.
In the 2012 Aurora massacre, James Holmes released gas in a theater during a midnight showing of a Batman movie. The arsenal he had with him included an AR-15 type assault rifle, a tactical shotgun and a Glock pistol. With these he killed 12 people and wounded scores more.
The gun or guns carried by the shooter in Germany have not yet been identified authoritatively. According to the Bild website, he fired four shots in the air from a “long gun,” possibly a hunting rifle or shotgun, and had a cartridge belt around over his shoulder. Some reports suggest he had a “gas pistol.”