Flowers brought to the site of the shooting to pay tribute to the victims  (REUTERS)

By Stefan J. Bos

Mar 13 2023

German authorities say seven people, including an unborn baby, have been killed in a shooting at a church used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany’s northern city of Hamburg. The gunman, who was described as a disgruntled former sect member, later took his own life, authorities said.

Dramatic footage showed the moment when life was cut short for many Jehovah’s Witnesses in this church in Germany’s northern city of Hamburg.

Gregor Miesbach filmed the gunman shooting through a first-floor window. “I heard loud gunshots and went to the window to get a clear picture of the situation. Instead, I saw a man with a firearm shooting through a window and filmed it,” he told reporters.  

A special police force was by chance in the neighbourhood and acted quickly after residents in Hamburg’s GrossBorstel district heard a dozen shots. “We heard gunshots. I know what gunshots sound like. There were 12 continuous shots,” a witness said. “I first thought it was at the construction site here. But then I learned that it happened at the petrol station or next door at the Jehova’s Witnesses.”

With continuous shootings, regular police and special forces tried to save lives. Officers had to break windows to enter the building where about 50 people had gathered.

“Police went into the building and quickly found people who, according to initial findings, had been injured, some even fatally,” recalls
Hamburg police spokesman Holder Vehren.

Police said they soon discovered seven people, four men, and two women, were shot dead. A seven-month-old unborn baby was also hit in the womb. The baby died, but its mother survived. All the dead were German nationals. Additionally, eight people were injured, four seriously. A Ugandan and a Ukrainian were among the wounded.

The suspect – described as a “sports shooter” who had a gun license – reportedly fled to the first floor of the Jehovah’s Witnesses center after the bloodshed.

Motives investigated

Authorities explained that his “lifeless body” was found shortly afterwards. Police said the alleged gunman, named only as 35-year-old Philipp F., acted alone and later took his own life.

Investigators believe he was a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who had “ill feelings” towards the religious sect. However, his exact motives are still being investigated.

In a statement, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in Germany said they were “deeply saddened by the horrific attack on members at the Kingdom Hall in Hamburg after a religious service” attended by dozens of people.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has described the attack as a “brutal act of violence,” saying his thoughts were with the victims and their relatives.

Jehovah’s Witnesses are members of what they call a Christian-based religious movement founded in the U.S. at the end of the 19th Century.
In its latest report, the sect says there are about 8.7 million Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide, including about 170,000 in Germany.  

In Hamburg, where Thursday’s shooting occurred, there are believed to be nearly 4,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. They are probably best known for their door-to-door preaching and offering of what they say is Bible literature.

Several mass shootings have rocked Germany in recent years. In February 2020, a far-right extremist shot dead ten people and wounded five others in the central German city of Hanau. In 2019, two people were killed after a neo-Nazi tried to storm a synagogue in Halle on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. – Vatican News