Police in Germany are facing mounting scrutiny after details emerged that authorities had been tipped off about the gunman who went on to kill at least seven people, including an unborn baby, and then himself, in a Jehovah’s Witness hall on Thursday.
Officials have revealed that earlier this year, they received an anonymous letter about the perpetrator – identified by police as Philip F. – but did not confiscate his legally-owned firearm
“Our weapons authority received an anonymous tip in January 2023. The anonymous person expressed in the letter the view that Phillip F could suffer from a mental illness,” Ralf Martin Meyer, Hamburg’s Police Commissioner confirmed on Friday.
The shooting took place on Thursday evening in the Gross Borstel district, a few kilometres north of the downtown area of Germany’s second-biggest city.
“We are stunned in the face of this violence,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz told reporters on Friday. “My thoughts are with the victims and their families in these difficult hours. We mourn for those who were so brutally torn from life,” he added.
Another eight people were injured, including a citizen from Uganda and another from Ukraine.
The 35-year-old gunman was a former member of the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Officials say they are still seeking a motive but announced that they are not treating the incident as a terrorist attack.
On Friday, police announced on Twitter that they had discovered a body “in a parish house in Gross Borstel and we believe it could be a perpetrator” of the shooting.
After the shooting, the city’s prosecuting office ordered a search of the gunman’s apartment, where police found 15 magazines and 200 bullets.
At the church, police found an additional 20 filled magazines in the gunman’s backpack. Each magazine reportedly carried 15 bullets. Another nine empty magazines were found next to his body.
Police spokesperson Holger Vehren said officers were alerted to the shooting at about 9:15 pm on Thursday and were on the scene quickly.
And the police apparently reached the hall while the attack was ongoing because patrolling officers were close to the church at the time, according to another police spokesperson.
“A large number of law enforcement agencies” were at the site of the Jehovah’s Witness centre, Hamburg police added.
The Federal Office for Civil Protection lifted the official danger alert for the attack around 3:00 am local time.
After the shooting, local media footage showed a big police presence outside the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall, a modern three-story building.
Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher tweeted that the news was “shocking” and offered his sympathy to the victim’s relatives.